The past week has seen increasing pressure on Barnaby Joyce to resign as deputy prime minister and as a member of parliament as a result of news that he is expecting a child with his former adviser, Vikki Campion and after allegations that she was given a job in the offices of other members in breach of the code of conduct.

The Australian Government Statement of Ministerial Standards states:

Ministers’ close relatives and partners are not to be appointed to positions in their ministerial or electorate offices, and must not be employed in the offices of other members of the Executive Government without the Prime Minister’s express approval. A close relative or partner of a Minister is not to be appointed to any position in an agency in the Minister’s own portfolio if the appointment is subject to the agreement of the Minister or Cabinet.The Statement of Ministerial Standards does not actually define the term ‘partner’ and so the term is open to interpretation.

This week Barnaby Joyce came out to say that at the time of her employment in his office and in the offices of other ministers, Vikki Campion was not his partner.

So Who is a Partner?

The answer is not so clear cut and needs to be considered in the context of each particular law. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll focus on the relevant ACT law.

Under the Domestic Relationships Act 1994 (ACT) a “domestic relationship” means a personal relationship between 2 adults in which one provides personal or financial commitment and support of a domestic nature for the material benefit of the other and includes a domestic partnership but does not include a legal marriage.

Under the Legislation Act 2001 (ACT), a domestic partnership is a relationship between 2 people, whether of a different or the same sex, living together as a couple on a genuine domestic basis.

Under the Family Law Act a person is in a de facto relationship with another person if:

  • the persons are not legally married to each other; and
  • the persons are not related by family; and
  • having regard to all the circumstances of their relationship, they have a relationship as a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis.

There are a number of factors which can indicate that a partnership exists. These include:

  • the length of their relationship;
  • whether they are living together;
  • if they are living together—how long and under what circumstances they have lived together;
  • whether there is a sexual relationship between them;
  • their degree of financial dependence or interdependence, and any arrangements for financial support, between or by them;
  • the ownership, use and acquisition of their property, including any property that they own individually;
  • their degree of mutual commitment to a shared life;
  • whether they mutually care for and support children;
  • the performance of household duties; and
  • the reputation, and public aspects, of the relationship between them.

The definition of a partner for succession law purposes is based on the definitions outlined above, however there have been a number of cases where the court has found someone to be a partner, even though they don’t live together. In these cases the partner was found to be eligible to inherit under intestacy law or to contest the estate under family provision legislation.

The SBS has put together a timeline of the facts they believe to be relevant which can be found here.

Without knowing the specific details, nature of the relationship and living arrangements between Barnaby Joyce and Vikki Campion it is difficult to say whether they would have been considered each other’s partner under the above tests.

Interestingly under the Family Law Act, a de facto relationship can exist even if one person is legally married to someone else or in another de facto relationship.

When considering the above factors, it is therefore arguable that Vikki Campion was in fact not Barnaby Joyce’s partner at the time on the presumption that they did not live together, did not have any financial dependence or interdependence noting that the above factors are indicators and are not an exhaustive list.

However, are we talking semantics? The Statement of Ministerial Standards is not legislation and it does not help that it does not include a definition section. If rather than using the word “partner” the Statement of Ministerial Standards included the terms girlfriend/boyfriend, sexual partner or “special friend” arguably such a relationship would be caught.

Comment

It would seem that Mr Joyce’s argument that Ms Campion was not his partner, might be technically correct but would fail the pub test or the expectations of ordinary Australians.