Backing for Joyce, amid push for him to take leave

Joyce to take a break from politics

A staunch Barnaby Joyce ally has defended the embattled MP as one of the Nationals’ “strongest players on the field”, amid a widening push for him to take indefinite leave from Parliament.

There were unconfirmed reports on Thursday that the former deputy PM had agreed to take personal leave after embarrassing himself in a display of public drunkenness last week.

Joyce has not yet publicly commented, but Nationals leader David Littleproud and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton have urged him to go on leave to get the help he needs, after reports he is facing unspecified “personal issues”.

It follows a video obtained by The Daily Mail that showed the maverick MP lying on his back on a Canberra footpath speaking loudly into his phone after falling off a planter box late one night last week.

Nationals MPs have expressed concerns for Joyce’s welfare and agreed the video wasn’t a good look. But most are waiting for the controversy to blow over.

On Friday, fellow Nationals MP and loyal Joyce ally Keith Pitt maintained the party needed him at the next election.

“Politics is a lot like sports,” Pitt told ABC radio.

“Whether you like people or don’t like them, if you don’t turn out your best team – if you bench your best players – you don’t win any games.

“The big game is the federal election … we need our strongest players on the field and Barnaby is clearly one of them.”

Joyce was elected to parliament in 2004 and remains a popular MP.

He won the seat of New England with a 14 per cent margin after independent Tony Windsor retired in 2013. He held the electorate with an even stronger buffer at the last election.

The 56-year-old, who is the opposition veteran’s affairs spokesman, admitted to a “big mistake” and blamed last week’s disastrous late-night tumble on a mixture of alcohol and prescription drugs, adding “there’s no excuse for it”.

But the government continues to criticise his behaviour and his future on the opposition front bench remains under a cloud.

Pitt called the scrutiny a public flogging and said Parliament House was a “building full of imperfect people”.

“You’re here to represent your people. It’s them that decide whether you come to the building or not, no one owns the seat,” he said.

“If we look at what’s happened with Barnaby, no one was injured, no one got hurt, there was no crime.

“He’s embarrassed, he’s provided a reason for what’s happened, he’s on his feet in the parliament.”

Joyce was seen in the House of Representatives on Thursday morning.

The viral footage is the latest in a string of controversies he has attracted.

In 2018, he had an affair with former staffer Vikki Campion, which led to the end of his 24-year marriage and the introduction of the so-called “bonk ban” in parliament.

The ban resurfaced on ABC TV recently. Joyce admitted during the three-part Nemesis series to lying to then-PM Malcolm Turnbull about his relationship with Campion.

“It wasn’t his right to know,” he said.

He also relived his anger when rewatching a famous Turnbull press conference outlining the new ministerial code of conduct.

“In my previous life, I’d been a bouncer in a pub and I was very close to returning to that field of endeavour. Because I was thinking, you can’t do stuff like that, mate,” he said.

“I was furious. I didn’t see him as a prime minister then. I saw him as an idiot.”

Joyce and Campion, who wed late last year, now have two young sons. He also has four adult daughters with ex-wife Natalie Abberfield.

Joyce also gained international attention in 2015 when he threatened to euthanise US actor Johnny Depp’s dogs while serving as agriculture minister.

-with AAP

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