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Joyce, Campion and Turnbull's approval: When is a partner not a partner?

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Vikki Campion and Member for New England Barnaby Joyce

Campion was Joyce's partner at the time she was transferred to Canavan's office and the Coalition has apparently lied about it, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

ACCORDING to the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday (28 March), a key advisor to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull 'helped to formalise a job transfer' for then Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s partner, Vikki Campion, from Joyce’s office to the office of Senator Matt Canavan in May 2017.

On 12 February 2018, Turnbull claimed:

“… he [Joyce] had not discussed Ms Campion’s employment with me or my office.”

When asked in Parliament on 12 February if his office had approved the creation of Ms Campion’s new position, Mr Turnbull said this was a matter for the Nationals.

However, Fairfax reports that the PM’s special advisor, Alison Green, signed off on Campion’s transfer in May 2017, contradicting Turnbull’s claims that he and his office were ignorant of the job creation and the transfer.

The Fairfax story also brings into serious question Turnbull’s assertions as to the nature of Joyce’s relationship with Campion at the time of her transfer. Turnbull claimed that ministerial regulations had not been breached by Joyce, Canavan or himself because Campion was not Joyce’s partner at the time of that transfer.

However, the only apparent reason for the Prime Minister's Office to be involved in a transfer of staff between ministers is if that transfer is subject to the Ministerial Code of Conduct. The Code only requires the prime minister to sign off on employment of staff who are in a relationship of some kind with a minister:

Section 2.23 of the code states:

'[a minister's] close relatives and partners are not to be appointed to positions in their ministerial or electorate offices and must not be employed in the offices of other members of the executive government without the Prime Minister’s express approval.'

Clearly, the PM and his office believed Campion to be Joyce’s partner, in order for them to consider it necessary to approve her transfer to a job specially created for her.

Turnbull, Joyce and Canavan have got themselves into a tortuous tangle. They have apparently lied about doing the right thing. If they have observed the Ministerial Code – and it would appear that is the case – then they have lied to the Parliament and the Australian people because according to the code, the only basis for its observation is if Campion was, at the time of the transfer, Joyce’s partner. Turnbull, Joyce and Canavan have denied this was the case.  

Had Campion not been Joyce’s partner, the staffing issue would have been relevant only to the Nationals and would not have required approval from the Prime Minister’s Office.

As Turnbull pointed out, when employment and transfers don’t involve family members and relationships:

“The distribution of those staff members between Nationals offices is a matter for the National Party.”

There appears at the very least to have been considerable collusion between Turnbull, Joyce and Canavan over this matter.

What is most insulting is that the Coalition seems to believe citizens and Parliament can be fed any old garbage and that it will be unquestioningly accepted as truth. The convoluted narratives they’ve created to explain away Joyce’s affair – and the possible use of taxpayer monies to enable its continuance – appear to be the products of pathological liars who don’t actually care if they are believed or not, but are merely creating a holding pattern until the next challenge when they’ll produce a whole new story. That we have come to expect this serial mendacity from our Government, that it is increasingly normalised, is terrifying.

When we are obliged to watch Turnbull frothing with confected indignation at the crimes and misdemeanours of Australian cricketers, which pale into insignificance beside his own falsehoods, we can see that it is indeed true, the fish does rot from the head and that head belongs to Turnbull and his pernicious Government. There’s not much use in blaming cricketers for the fall in standards and the betrayal of kiddies when this Government so often trashes truth and decency.

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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