Australian leaders open hostile rift over office affair

Australia’s prime minister and his deputy exchanged hostile words Thursday over politically damaging revelations that the deputy is expecting a baby with a former press secretary.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has accused Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce of making a “shocking error of judgment” by having an office affair that hurt his wife, his four daughters and his new partner who is due to give birth in April.

“He has set off a world of woe for those women and appalled all of us,” Turnbull said.

Joyce hit back on Friday, describing Turnbull’s remarks as “inept” and “completely unnecessary.”

Turnbull avoided commenting on the scandal when it became public for the sake of Joyce’s estranged wife and four daughters. But Turnbull responded Thursday by banning his ministers from having sex with staff.

Critics argue that Turnbull’s ban has opened ministers’ private lives to media scrutiny. Joyce said ministers in his Nationals party, the junior partner in the coalition government, would abide by the new rule.

In a move interpreted by some as punishing his deputy, Turnbull announced Thursday that Joyce would not become acting prime minister next week when Turnbull travels to the United States. He explained on Friday, before Joyce’s angry news conference, that his deputy “has taken some leave and he is considering his position.”

But Joyce said Friday he had no intention of quitting.

“This was a personal issue, a personal issue that’s been dragged into the public arena and I don’t believe people should be resigning in any job over personal issues,” Joyce said.

Labor Party leader Bill Shorten said on Friday: “The way these two men are behaving, neither is fit for the high offices they currently hold.”

He told reporters, “Australians have every reason to be angry and frustrated when the two most senior Australian leaders are not focused on anything other than their own jobs.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.