Embattled deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce has rejected suggestions that he did anything wrong in accepting free accommodation from a high-profile Tamworth businessman.
The Australian reported this week that Joyce was given six months of free rent in millionaire businessman and Quality Hotel Powerhouse owner Greg Maguire's Armidale townhouse, where Joyce is now living with his pregnant new partner, and his former media advisor, Vikki Campion.
On Thursday Labor attempted to move a motion in the House of Representatives calling for Joyce to resign over accepting the gift from Maguire — who, because of his hotel business, could benefit from decisions the government makes, in particular in Joyce’s portfolio of transport with regards to Tamworth airport.
Labor argued that by accepting the gift of free rent, worth an estimated $12,000, Joyce was in breach of ministerial guidelines and should resign.
In response, Joyce said that Maguire only approached him after he had been kicked out of parliament, following the High Court ruling him ineligible due to his dual citizenship — therefore, when he accepted the accommodation, he was neither a minister nor an MP.
"At the time, in the discussions, he said, 'You're living out of a suitcase', and this is basically something that 'I should try and help you with'," said Joyce. The deputy PM said he offered to pay, but Maguire told him "mates don't pay for things when they're helping other mates out".
"His daughter had just moved out of the apartment ... people say it's a luxury apartment. It's not. It's an apartment in Armidale. She had moved out. He said, 'It's free. There's no-one using it and you're welcome to use it to basically get back up on your feet'."
Joyce said he didn't feel like he needed to declare it on the register of members interests because it was a gift from a friend, and those didn't need to be declared, but says he did it in order to be "fully transparent".
The entry itself doesn't disclose who was giving accommodation to the deputy PM.
Joyce suggested that other members of parliament might have their own personal circumstances examined as a result of the ongoing scandal.
"On issues such as this, in this place, it is without a shadow of a doubt that if we start throwing stones, then every person is going to start having some questions asked of them," he said. "That of course might be the process of the parliament as to exactly how that works."
Joyce said he continues to pay for a house in Tamworth for his estranged wife Natalie and his four daughters, and would eventually settle down and find his own accommodation.
Two journalists who have been on the story, however, dispute Joyce's order of events, claiming that Maguire told them that the deputy PM approached him, rather than vice versa.
Barnaby Joyce owns a property in Tamworth. An earlier version of this story misstated his property holdings.
Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Josh Taylor at email@example.com.
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