Ken O'Dowd backs down from 'light hearted' deputy PM remark


He is today facing further allegations of inappropriate behaviour, with the Daily Telegraph reporting claims from a woman who said Mr Joyce "pinched (her) bottom" at a 2011 awards ceremony. They are political enemies.

"I'd like to also say to all my supporters and people in my electorate how deeply sorry I am that this personal issue, deeply personal issue, has gone into the public arena".

KEN O'Dowd has distanced himself from his "light hearted" suggestion that he could replace Barnaby Joyce as deputy Prime Minister.

"I'd like to say to [wife] Natalie how deeply sorry I am for all the hurt this has caused, to my girls how deeply sorry I am for all the hurt that it has caused them ..."

To Vikki Campion, how deeply sorry I am that she has been dragged into this. The matter is considered of public interest not just because Joyce used his nuclear family to campaign against same-sex marriage, but because ministerial rules don't allow politicians to obtain jobs for partners or relatives.

Joyce also addressed claims that the jobs Campion was given after she left his office in April past year could have breached the ministerial code of conduct, which says "partners" of ministers cannot be given jobs in any ministerial office without the express approval of the prime minister.

"It is without a shadow of a doubt that Vikki Campion is my partner now", he said. "Our locals can't get to work on time", she said. And Damian Drum was not a minister.

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But she hinted on Sunday she could make herself available for selection for the US' next round clash in France in April. The tennis icon added that this past weekend's competition was "the start of a long process" in returning to the top.

Earlier in the day, the Victorian National Darren Chester - who was dumped from Cabinet by Joyce in an acrimonious reshuffle past year - confirmed publicly there had been a "robust discussion" about Joyce's travails at Monday's meeting of National MPs, and he said he fully accepted the controversy was "a distraction and a problem for us".

Rumours of the affair and the pregnancy had been widely known in Canberra (home to Australia's national parliament) for months, and in the lead up to the by-election.

Liberal-aligned Queensland senator Ian Macdonald bemoaned that the ongoing attention on Joyce's personal conduct was depriving the government of "clear air" to get its message across, saying only the Nationals leader could resolve it.

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.

"How this one ends, we will have to wait and see", he told the ABC.

The clock is ticking on the resolution of the issue, with Malcolm Turnbull due to leave the country next week, which would make Joyce the acting prime minister - a development some hard heads regard as politically untenable.

Claims made under parliamentary entitlements from January to September past year show that more than $10,000 was spent on family travel, which is allowed so that MPs can "balance their work and family responsibilities".