Barnaby Joyce to take personal leave, won’t be Acting PM

Barnaby Joyce to take personal leave, won’t be Acting PM

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GONE FISHING: Barnaby Joyce will take the week off.

GONE FISHING: Barnaby Joyce will take the week off.

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The Deputy Prime Minister will try to step out of the media spotlight.

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Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is taking leave to deal with the "intense public focus" on his personal life 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 on Thursday 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.

"The deputy prime minister is on leave next week after he advised the prime minister he wanted to support his family and partner after such intense public focus on personal matters," Mr Joyce's office said in a statement.

The Senate passed a motion shortly after Mr Joyce's announcement, calling on him to resign.

Labor leader Bill Shorten asked the prime minister whether the provision of leave confirmed Mr Joyce 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 Thursday, asking Mr Joyce about taxpayers forking out $5000 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.

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

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.

"He said, 'You're living out of a suitcase, and this is basically something that I should try and help you with'," Mr Joyce told parliament on Thursday

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

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

Senator Matt Canavan also confirmed Ms Campion was the only person interviewed for a role when she joined his office from Mr Joyce's.

"She had the skills and experience and she was well known," he told the Senate.

Meanwhile, new figures show Mr Joyce clocked up more than $227,000 in government aircraft flights in the first half of 2017.

Figures released on 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 $9787.

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