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Joyce to take leave as Senate calls for resignation

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce will take leave next week, amid allegations he breached ministerial conduct guidelines during or after his admitted affair with former staffer Vikki Campion, who is now his partner.

Joyce, Nationals leader and minister for transport and infrastructure, was to serve as acting PM from Monday, February 19, with Malcolm Turnbull on a trip to the United States.

With deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop also overseas, Turnbull announced on Thursday the Government’s leader in the Senate, Matias Cormann, will be acting PM instead.

Turnbull announced the acting PM shuffle during Question Time on Thursday, just minutes before the Senate voted to formally call on Joyce to resign from his position of deputy PM, and for the National Party to sack him as leader if he does not resign.

The news comes amid intense pressure on the deputy PM to step down from the frontbench after news broke last week of his affair with Campion, who is now pregnant.

Campion joined the Nationals leader’s staff after working on his campaign for the 2016 election. She was moved to the office of fellow minister Matt Canavan in April last year, and later went to work in the office of former Nationals whip Damian Drum.

Some have questioned whether Campion was provided unfair treatment due to her relationship with Joyce.

But Joyce has denied Campion was his formal partner during the moves.

The drama has also led to the revelation Joyce has been living rent-free in Armidale, in an apartment donated by one of his friends, Greg Maguire.

Labor on Thursday contended Joyce had breached the code of conduct, which dictates ministers “must not seek or encourage any form of gift in their personal capacity.”

But Joyce argued that he had offered to pay Maguire for the space, but the businessman had turned him down, “because it was between mates”.

“Most people would realise that at the time of a marriage break-up, it is not unusual for those who you are close to, to offer support,” Joyce said.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten was stunned to hear Joyce would be taking leave. “Are we simply meant to believe it is all a big coincidence?” Shorten asked.

Labor used Question Time on Thursday to contend the news proved Joyce was not capable of performing his job as deputy PM, or leader of the Nationals.