Sydney – An affair between Australia’s married deputy prime minister and a younger member of his staff, who is now pregnant, gripped the country on Thursday, reigniting questions over MPs’ private lives.
Barnaby Joyce, leader of the National Party which rules in a coalition with the Liberals, is best known internationally for threatening to euthanise Hollywood star Johnny Depp’s two dogs when they were brought into Australia illegally.
The 50-year-old appeared on national television to admit his marriage had broken down after Sydney’s Daily Telegraph splashed a picture of his 33-year-old pregnant lover on its front page on Wednesday.
The decision to publish was widely criticised by politicians across party lines who argued for the right to privacy.
The staunchly conservative Joyce – who has campaigned in support of traditional marriage values and has four daughters with his “devastated” wife of 24 years Natalie – insisted his private life should not be discussed in the public arena.
“I don’t think it’s right, I don’t think it would be right for any other politician,” he said, while insisting he had never used public funds to conduct the relationship.
“I think you have to make a distinct decision to not turn Australia into the United States of America.”
‘In the public interest’
Politicians’ private lives are fair game in America, where the House of Representatives on Tuesday voted unanimously to ban sexual relationships between lawmakers and their employees as part of an overhaul of policies on harassment.
The Telegraph’s Sharri Markson, who broke the story, said it was clearly in the public interest.
“I don’t think there are any punters out there who are saying, ‘I wish I did not know this story’ this morning,” she said on Wednesday.
“(They are not thinking) ‘I wish the Daily Telegraph had suppressed the information that the Deputy Prime Minister had left his wife and four daughters for his former staff member nearly 20 years his junior’.”
Joyce’s wife issued a…