CANBERRA, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is facing mounting calls for his resignation over an intra-office affair.
Joyce, leader of the National Party of Australia which is part of a governing coalition with the Liberal Party of Australia, on Tuesday issued a public apology to his estranged wife and family for his affair with former staffer Vikki Campion who is now pregnant with Joyce's child.
Questions have been raised over Joyce's leadership of the Nationals after it was revealed that Campion was twice moved to cushy jobs in the offices of fellow Nationals Members of Parliament (MPs) after she was engaged in a relationship with Joyce.
Under the Ministerial Code of Conduct applied to all government ministers, anyone who employs a family member or partner must first seek permission from the prime minister.
However, Joyce has said that he and Campion were not in a formal relationship at the time of her promotion.
"I deeply regret the failure of my 24-year marriage, the tremendous hurt caused to (ex-wife) Natalie and our four daughters and the unwanted public intrusion into what is an intensely private matter for all of us," Joyce told reporters on Tuesday.
The deputy prime minister has come under intense scrutiny after it was reported by Australian media that he abused parliamentary privileges in his relationship with Campion.
It was revealed on Tuesday that he claimed 13,125 U.S. dollars of travel expenses in Canberra in 2017 when parliament was not sitting, more than any other MP.
Joyce represents the New South Wales electorate of New England while Campion was living in Canberra at the time while working in politics.
Senior figures from both the Liberals and Nationals reportedly turned on Joyce on Tuesday, saying they would prefer he resigned from his post so they were not forced to move against him.
Cory Bernardi, a former Liberal National Party (LNP) Senator who defected to start his own Australian Conservatives party, said while he did not want to judge a relationship between two consenting adults he did not believe taxpayers should be paying for such a relationship.
The Opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP) has signalled its intentions to pursue Joyce over the matter, grilling him about the relationship and his recently-gained national infrastructure portfolio in Question Time on Tuesday.
In response to a question from ALP Leader Bill Shorten about whether he has "full confidence" that Joyce did not violate ministerial standards, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he believed Joyce was not in a relationship with Campion as defined by the code at the time of her promotion.
"(Shorten) has not made any case to support the proposition that the staff movements he's referring to were in breach of the ministerial code," he said.