Embattled Barnaby Joyce takes leave from Australia's Parliament, won't fill in as Acting PM for Turnbull

Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce will be taking leave next week and won't stand in as the nation's leader while Malcolm Turnbull is away.

The prime minister, who is heading to Washington next week, told parliament todaythat leave had been approved for the embattled Nationals leader from February 19 to 25.

Mr Joyce has been under fire over his acceptance of a rent-free apartment offered to him by businessman Greg Maguire and whether any rules have been broken in regard to jobs provided to his former staffer and now partner Vikki Campion.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann will be acting prime minister during the period, as he is government leader in the Senate.

Labor leader Bill Shorten asked the prime minister whether the provision of leave confirmed the deputy prime minister could not do his job.

"Or are we simply meant to believe it's all a big coincidence?" Mr Shorten said.

Labor opened a new front in the scandal on today, asking Mr Joyce about taxpayers forking out $A5000 on meals and drinks for a March 2016 function - which he attended - at the Quality Hotel Powerhouse in Armidale, owned by Greg Maguire.

Mr Maguire last year provided a rent-free townhouse to Mr Joyce and his partner Vikki Campion in Armidale.

"I have to admit I was unaware of that $5000 payment," Mr Joyce told parliament, pledging to take the question on notice.

"It would not seem surprising in a multiple-billion-dollar department that I'm not aware of a $5000 payment."

The deputy prime minister earlier in the day survived a vote aimed at forcing him out of parliament.

The vote failed 73-70, with the government using its numbers.

Labor seized on media reports that Mr Joyce had personally solicited the use of the townhouse from Mr Maguire - a potential breach of the ministerial code of conduct.

But Mr Joyce told parliament Mr Maguire had contacted him, and in any case it occurred at a time he was seeking preselection for the New England by-election and was not a minister.

"It was at that time that Mr Maguire approached me, as did many other friends to offer support," Mr Joyce told parliament today.

"He said, 'You're living out of a suitcase, and this is basically something that I should try and help you with'.

"I took him up on the offer but I offered to pay for it."

Mr Maguire knocked back his offer to pay rent and provided the townhouse free for six months.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Mr Joyce's position as deputy prime minister was no longer tenable due to his conflicts of interest.

"The prime minister has a ministerial code of conduct which, if he doesn't uphold, is not worth the paper it's written on," Mr Shorten said.

Meanwhile, new figures show Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce clocked up more than $A227,000 in government aircraft flights in the first half of 2017.

Figures released Thursday showed between January 1 and June 30 last year Mr Joyce's work flights on government planes, which also included periods when he was acting prime minister, totalled $227,508.

The report noted Mr Joyce flew with Ms Campion on three occasions, in February and April, at a cost to taxpayers of $A9787.



Topics



First clear image of Florida mass shooting suspect, Nikolas Cruz, who allegedly killed 17 students

Details are emerging on the sole suspect in Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Nicolas Cruz, who was a problem teen previously expelled from the school, with a love of guns. 

Seventeen students and teachers are dead and at least 14 have been taken to hospital, with three in critical condition, after today's mass shooting.

Cruz is 19-years-old had been expelled from Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for disciplinary reasons.

A family member of the suspect Cruz told ABC News in the US that Nikolas was adopted by Roger and Lynda Cruz, both of whom are now deceased, and that his adopted mother died last year.

He had one AR-15 semi-automatic style firearm and multiple magazines, and was taken into custody after the shooting.

One Marjory Stoneman Douglas student said Cruz was kown within the school as troubled, and carried "multiple guns" on him.

"He got kicked out of school last year, he always had guns on him and stuff like that so he was a little bit of a troubled kid, he always had jokes on it like that," the student said outside the school.

"It was a lot of crazy stuff that he did, just not right for school. He got kicked out of school multiple times for that kind of stuff.

"He carried multiple guns, he showed me his guns. Actually I got kicked out of school myself and he showed me what guns he had, he showed me personally.

"And a lot of the times the kids wouldn't pick on him for that kind of stuff because they knew what could go on, they were scared."

The suspected shooter Cruz was found off campus this morning (NZT), with reports he blended into fleeing students to escape to a nearby suburb where he was captured by police.

It's the second worst in US school history, eclipsing the infamous Columbine shooting, which left 15 dead including the two shooters in 1999.

Florida student Zackary Wells said he didn't know the suspected shooter personally, but said he was a former student and understood he "would regularly post videos of him with guns and knives and things like that". 

"I had seen him before, but had not really talked to him or known him at all," he told US ABC.


"One of my friends said that he used to follow him on social media accounts where he would regularly post videos of him with guns and knives."

Mr Wells said to US ABC the suspected shooter was a former student. 

"One of my teachers said something about him either transferring or being kicked out of the school, I'm not sure which it was but yes, he did used to go to our school."

He believed the suspected shooter "dropped his rifle and he made his way out with the other students that were being evacuated. He walked on over to Windham Lake and he was accosted a quarter mile from my area."

"One of the kids in that class, good friends with him, was on the phone with police officers and they gave information of his name and we looked for his name in a book and found a picture of him in a school composite photo," he said to US ABC.

First clear picture of Florida high school shooting suspect, Nikolas Cruz, as he hwas taken down by police outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Source: WSVN-TV


Topics

TODAY'S
FEATURED STORIES

Florida shooting: 'There was blood everywhere' - student details moment heroic teacher returned after helping victims

The horror of a deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school this morning is becoming clearer as surviving students recount the ordeal. 

CNN reporter Sarah Ganim said a young freshman told her she saw the gunman walking down the hallway as he was breaking, or shooting out windows.

"She said, 'I just heard banging coming up the hallways, he got to the window, he shot out the window of the classroom. He just kept going'."

At that point the freshman started to hear people screaming. 

One of the teachers reportedly grabbed some jackets to try and go help with wounds, and when the teacher came back she was "covered in blood".

"There was blood everywhere and people needing help," she said.

The suspected gunman has been identified as 19-year-old Nicolas Cruz and has been taken into custody. 

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel confirmed the number of fatalities stands at 17, and a number of injured people have been taken to hospital.