Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce has slammed the initial reporting of his relationship with Vikki Campion, saying he was never asked if he was the father of his former staffer's unborn child and that the issue of paternity is not certain.
In an interview that calls into question a key factor in Mr Joyce losing the second-highest political office in the country, the Nationals MP told Fairfax Media the baby boy he and Ms Campion are expecting in April would be raised as “mine” but conceded the identity of the biological father was "a grey area".
Mr Joyce claimed he was never asked by the Daily Telegraph - which revealed in early February that the couple were expecting a child - if the child was his. The story was widely followed by other media outlets, including the The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and ultimately led to his resignation from cabinet.
The backbencher said journalists did not check the apparent “fact" he was the baby’s father against the pair's respective travel to see if Mr Joyce, 50, and Ms Campion, 33, were geographically together around the time of conception.
Mr Joyce conceded that the fact they were physically apart for almost all of the critical period in which conception occurred, meant the question of paternity remained "a bit of a grey area".
Mr Joyce said he had no intention of getting a paternity test.
His comments were volunteered on Saturday at his initiative with Ms Campion present for some of the interview. They followed an article in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, which reported the question of the baby’s paternity was part of the Parliament House rumour mill.
Mr Joyce said it was “outrageous” that a newspaper could breach the privacy of the pregnant Ms Campion by photographing her "crossing the road", and then splash her picture on the front page with the headline "Bundle of Joyce". He claims neither he nor Ms Campion were asked about the paternity at the time the photograph was taken and says no other questions about it were put to the pair.
"How could they know?” he said. "They never even asked if it was Joyce's bundle."
Mr Joyce declined interview requests made by the Daily Telegraph before it published the “Bundle of Joyce” story. Fairfax Media on Saturday night sighted an email to Mr Joyce's office from the Daily Telegraph the day prior to the story's publication. One of the questions was: "Is Mr Joyce the father of the baby and when is the baby due?"
The pair’s travel does appear to make the paternity uncertain. Mr Joyce was in Europe travelling on official business - accompanied by his then wife Natalie - for 10 days from June 23, 2017. Ms Campion was in North Queensland at the time.
He then commenced a period as acting prime minister upon his return in early July during which he was accompanied by close personal protection body guards. The couple are expecting the birth of a baby son in early April.
Mr Joyce has told friends he and Ms Campion were not "partners" in June-July of 2017, although there was an intimate relationship forming on a “sporadic basis”.
The travel details and Mr Joyce’s comments raises the possibility the key event that led to the high-profile MP losing his job was based on a fiction.
The question of paternity was at no time put to Mr Joyce in a series of private discussions with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, according to sources familiar with the talks.
Late last week the now backbench member for New England told Fairfax Media that the "biological" question made no material difference to him.
"It’s mine, on the record, there it is,” he said. "And can I say, even if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t care, I’d still go through this, I’d still love him.”
The political crisis over his pregnant former adviser swamped the government and eventually sunk Mr Joyce's career. It also resulted in a complete breakdown of his relationship with Mr Turnbull, who first barred him from acting as prime minister and then unveiled a prohibition on ministers having sex with members of their own staff. The new rule was dubbed the "bonk ban" and generated news coverage around the world.
Mr Turnbull made it clear he had lost confidence in his deputy and wanted the Nationals leader to resign from his cabinet.
"Barnaby has acknowledged his fault, his error, his grief about his conduct,” Mr Turnbull told reporters on February 15.
"He has to consider his own position obviously. These are matters for Barnaby Joyce to reflect on. He has made a very grave error of judgment, in an area that traditionally I suppose, has been regarded as private and personal and you can understand the reasons for that."
Just over a week later, Mr Joyce resigned citing an unrelated claim of sexual misconduct against him alleged to have occurred in August 2016.
He has denied the allegation but said on February 23, when the complaint made front page news, that it was "the straw that broke the camel's back".
Some Nationals continue to fume about the escalating series of stories surrounding Mr Joyce over the period following the initial reports of Ms Campion's pregnancy and culminating in the misconduct complaint lodged confidentially with the Nationals before being quickly leaked.
A well-placed Nationals source from Western Australia, where the initial complaint was lodged, claimed the misconduct claim had been discussed and its political implications "workshopped with an ever-widening circle of MPs and officials" which meant the complainant's request for privacy became "farcical".