INDEPENDENT Victorian rural MP Cathy McGowan has raised the possibility of “conversation” about changing laws that govern personal relationships within the workplace, saying federal parliament is lagging behind community expectations and corporate practice.
It comes the day after reports surfaced that Deputy Prime Minister and former Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce is expecting a baby to his former ministerial staffer Vikki Campion who came to work in his office following the 2016 federal election.
Mr Joyce took to ABC television’s 7.30 program last night to address the matter and the recent breakup of his marriage saying it was a private matter that should “remain private”.
“I don't think it profits anybody to drag private matters out into the public arena,” he said.
“I can't quite fathom why, basically, a pregnant lady walking across the road deserves a front page.
“I don't know what the political purpose is to that.
“And so it's a private matter and I don't think it helps me.
“I don't think it helps my family
“I don't think it helps anybody in the future to start making this part of a sort of a public discussion, so, as much as I can, I will keep private matters private.”
Ms McGowan, who was virtually anointed by Mr Joyce’s political nemesis Tony Windsor for the Victorian seat of Indi that she won off the Liberals despite a landslide return to government for the Coalition at the 2013 federal election.
Mr Windsor has targeted Mr Joyce through repeated allegations concerning his personal affairs on social media, in particular ramping up activity leading into last year’s New England by-election which he subsequently declined to contest, to reclaim his old seat, effectively handing Mr Joyce an easy victory.
Today, Ms McGowan said there was an opportunity to have a conversation within the federal parliament about a process to address personal relationships within the workplace.
“There is a belief the parliament is behind community expectations and corporate practice,” she said.
“The parliament is a place of work and good workplace practice includes clear expectations about behaviour.
“There are examples set by the process undertaken by the United States Congress and in the Australian corporate sector, including the action of the AFL in July last year regarding relationships in the workplace.
“I’m happy to begin this conversation ahead of potentially tabling a motion in parliament.”
Liberal deputy-leader Julie Bishop commented on Ms McGowan’s proposal when speaking to media in Canberra today saying the particular legislative course that the US Congress took was “a matter for them”.
But she said it would be “very difficult to draft legislation that could cross so easily into people's personal lives”.
“Government has no business interfering in peoples’ personal lives and we wouldn't want to cross the line so that the moral police were able to dictate what happens between consenting adults,” she said.
During last night’s television interview, Mr Joyce was asked about the case involving AFL which accepted the resignations of two senior married male executives for completely mutual relationships with female staff.
“Isn't that the same situation here?” he was asked by the interviewer.
“Because you were the powerful boss and the woman was on your staff.
“If things had gone wrong, she was the person with everything to lose - is that the right way for a boss to act?”
But Mr Joyce said, “I'm not going to once go into all the iterations of a private relationship - and there's nothing beyond the consensual”.
“This is a private matter,” he said.
“Everybody's trying to sort of second-guess what is a deeply private matter and I'm just not going to do that.”
Mr Joyce was also asked about his wife Natalie’s statement on the matter that she issued yesterday which said “I understand this has been going on for many months and started when she (Ms Campion) was a paid employee”.
He was asked if it was accurate, that the relationship started when this person was a staff member, replying it was “a fair question” about the intersection between public expenses.
“There's no problems about that,” he said.
Questions about travel and use of taxpayer funds
Mr Joyce said he’d faced Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from “just about every media outlet for a very long period of time” concerning his travel and nothing had been turned up because “there's nothing there”.
“So uphill, down-dale they have enquired into this and nothing has been found, because there's nothing there,” he said.
“I mean, it's not a case of….using taxpayers' funds to conduct other things than what is your business and my business is to represent the people of New England and to represent people in Australia,” he said.
“But, you know, obviously, where private issues come into one's life, they are completely private.
“My relationship coming apart I don't think makes me terribly unusual.
“In fact, it puts me in the same box as about 40 to 50 per cent of other marriages.
“I am not for one minute saying that that is an admirable trait.
“Obviously, it's incredibly painful for everybody involved - I can say quite openly it's probably one of the greatest failures of my life.
“I'm not proud of it, but that is…in essence, the humanity of who we are…and I'm going to not go into the public arena and discuss my private life.”
But Mr Joyce said “one of the greatest failures in my life was the end of my marriage, and I do not in any way stand away from that”.
He said it was “obviously a tumultuous time and everybody who has been through a marriage break-up would understand that”.
“I'm not going to start sort of disseminating beyond that - I'll say that private matters remain private and I'm going to keep my private life private,” he said.
Mr Joyce said he did his job as a politician “to the very best of my ability and I have dedicated myself, probably too much, to my job at times”.
“And as you know, a job like this is completely and utterly consuming - I've been doing it for 13 years, and maybe one instance of the toll it's taken is on my marriage,” he said.
“I acknowledge that: I failed.
“I'm obviously incredibly sorry about that but I'm also - and like other people - incredibly hurt that private issues get dragged out into the public arena.
“Who on any street, in any program, would want their private life just thrown out there for everybody to, you know, to be seen?
“I think most people would say: ‘No, mate, those things should stay in the realm of your private business’.”
Mr Joyce said private matters should remain private and anything on a public account has been to do with his work as a politician.
“I think that, once we start going through this sort of salami slicing of a private life, then where does it end?” he said.
“So I'm not going to even entertain sort of starting to talk about some sort of private - you know, have a sort of a discussion about my private life in the public arena.
“I don't think it's right - I don't think it would be right for any other politician.
“I think you have to make a distinct decision to not turn Australia into the United States of America.
“Private matters should remain private and that's part of my private life.”