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Growing Scandal Forces Australia's Deputy Prime Minister To Resign

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce speaks to the media last week in Canberra, Australia.

Australia's beleaguered deputy prime minister has announced his resignation over allegations of sexual harassment that followed on reports earlier this month of an adulterous affair with a former staff member who is now pregnant with the couple's child.

At a news conference on Friday, Barnaby Joyce said he would step down Monday "as leader of the National Party and deputy leader of Australia."

He said media reports that an unidentified woman had made a sexual harassment complaint against him were "the straw the breaks the camel's back," after two weeks of withering scrutiny about the affair with his former press secretary, Vikki Campion.

Joyce — who has denied the allegation of harassment and has steadfastly insisted that his relationship with Campion is a private affair — called the decision to resign from the government a "circuit-breaker," telling reporters, "This current cacophony of issues has to be put aside."

Questions were raised not only over the extramarital affair, but with Campion receiving two subsequent government jobs after leaving Joyce's office. Further scrutiny has come from an apartment where Joyce and Campion now live that was provided, rent-free, by a wealthy political donor.

As we reported last week, the growing scandal had erupted into open conflict between Joyce and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, threatening to split the coalition between Turnbull's Liberal Party and Joyce's National Party.

Turnbull publicly rebuked his deputy, calling Joyce's actions a "shocking error in judgement" that had caused "terrible hurt and humiliation" to the deputy prime minister, his wife, daughters and Campion.

Turnbull went so far as to announce a revision in the ministerial code of conduct to prohibit such breaches in the future.

Joyce responded to Turnbull's remarks, calling them "inept" and "unnecessary." He complained that his relationship with Campion was "a personal issue that's been dragged into the public arena."

The Canberra Times writes that Joyce's resignation from the deputy prime minister post and as head of his National Party that "... comes after rising public pressure to go, as well as from within the Nationals and their Coalition partners, the Liberal Party."

Even as he departs, Joyce will retain his seat in Parliament, guaranteeing that Malcolm's government maintains its one-seat majority in the House of Representatives.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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