Beleaguered Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has bailed on a scheduled TV interview after fessing up to sending text messages that were scathing of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Mr Joyce had been scheduled to appear on the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday but pulled out amid an embarrassing text leak that has heaped pressure on the government ahead of a looming federal election.
The move comes after Mr Joyce confirmed he offered to quit his post after he called the Prime Minister a “hypocrite and a liar” in messages last March.
Mr Joyce fronted media in Sydney on Saturday morning – having already apologised to Mr Morrison for the texts – and said that the Prime Minister had rejected his offer of resignation.
“And that in itself is a statement of a person of greater character. That is not one of a person of any form of vindictiveness … or a sense of retribution,” Mr Joyce said.
“I should never have written the texts that I did, I don’t blame anyone but myself.”
Less than an hour later, Insiders host and journalist David Speers said Mr Joyce would be replaced on Sunday’s program by Home Affairs minister Karen Andrews.
The text saga is the latest setback for a Coalition that is facing a difficult fight to remain in power.
Mr Morrison has taken a battering in the polls after a shocking summer that saw his government blasted for its handling of the pandemic response.
Mr Joyce’s messages – sent in March last year – came when he was still a backbencher, before he overthrew Michael McCormack and returned to the National Party leadership.
They were sent to an unnamed third party to pass on to former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, a month after her rape claims went public.
The message to Ms Higgins from Mr Joyce reads: “Tell BH (Brittany Higgins) I and Scott, he is Scott to me until I have to recognise his office, don’t get along.”
“He is a hypocrite and a liar from my observations and that is over a long time. I have never trusted him and I dislike how he earnestly rearranges the truth to a lie.”
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said that it was untenable for Mr Joyce to continue in his role as the Deputy Prime Minister.
“That is something that sums up what the Deputy Prime Minister thinks of Scott Morrison and I note that Barnaby Joyce said that was a year ago and I have got to know him better,” Mr Albanese said.
“Hang on a second here. That was after he had served in the cabinet for over half a decade alongside Scott Morrison.
“The idea that this was just a flippant remark is simply untenable.”
Mr Joyce has admitted it was “common knowledge that in the past the Prime Minister and I had not always seen eye-to-eye” but said his relationship with Mr Morrison had improved since he returned to the role of Deputy Prime Minister.
Earlier in the week, Mr Joyce had called on an unnamed serving cabinet minister, who allegedly called Scott Morrison “a complete psycho” in text messages, to “out themselves”.
Opposition early childhood minister Amanda Rishworth said Mr Joyce’s messages were “a symptom of a deeply divided government at war with itself”.