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

MOST
POPULAR STORIES