Rift in Australian coalition as deputy PM calls Turnbull 'inept'

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra Friday

Australian Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce has sharply criticised the nation's leader, Malcolm Turnbull, in an escalation of tensions that have rocked the government. He described Joyce's conduct as "appalling" and a "shocking error of judgment".

Turnbull last week talked down the prospect of a U.S. House of Representatives-style ban on lawmakers having sex with staff, arguing that elected officials had a right to consensual sexual relationships.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday made a strident change to the ministerial code of conduct in wake of Joyce's "shocking error of judgement" in having an extramarital affair with his former press secretary Vikki Campion.

Mr Joyce also warned against outside interference in the running of the National Party, the junior coalition partner that has stood by its leader amid the scandal.

Mr Joyce's defiant and angry response on Friday raised the prospect of a breakdown in the relationship between the ruling Liberal and National coalition partners.

Mr. Joyce admitted to the affair after a picture of his pregnant lover was splashed across the front page of The Sydney Daily Telegraph, and has publicly apologised to his wife Natalie and their daughters.

"I have not sought in any way to influence the deliberations of the National party".

"In doing so he (Joyce) has set off a world of woe for those women, and appalled all of us".

He implied that by holding a gun to the head of the Nationals, Turnbull had effectively strengthened the party's resolution not to be dictated to over who should lead it.

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Defending himself, Joyce insisted once again on Friday that his personal life should have no impact on his ability to serve nor should it be a cause for his resignation.

"I don't believe people should be resigning in any job over personal issues", Joyce added.

Veteran Liberal MP, and Tony Abbott backer, Kevin Andrews called it a "circus" that has to be resolved "one way or the other".

The Senate yesterday passed a motion for Joyce to resign over the affair, saying he had breached standards of behaviour expected of a minister.

Mr Joyce was benched as acting Prime Minister next week, and will instead, at the urging of Malcolm Turnbull, take leave.

Joyce's office claims no rules have been broken, but they can hardly expect the media and Labor not to pursue legitimate questions of how taxpayer funds have been spent by Joyce and Campion, with whom he was clearly in a relationship, even if not technically his "partner". "We are an independent political unit".

"Ministers, regardless of whether they are married or single, must not engage in sexual relations with staff. Mr Turnbull must sack his Deputy Prime Minister from the cabinet, the time is well past the hour".

But Mr Turnbull refused to order an investigation into the allegations.

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