Barnaby Joyce and Vikki Campion have been cleared of misuse of parliamentary expenses by an independent audit.
The Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority found that spending by the Nationals MP and his partner and former staffer was within the rules and a “substantial” increase in nights spent in Canberra in 2017 was justified by the former deputy prime minister’s schedule.
In its report into Joyce, released on Thursday, the IPEA noted that in 2017 Joyce had claimed 58 nights of travel allowance for stays in Canberra when parliament was not sitting, a “substantial change” from the 12 nights he claimed in each of 2015 and 2016.
Joyce explained the increase in Canberra stays by reference to his ministerial duties, preparation for a presumed cabinet reshuffle, “citizenship issues” before he was ruled ineligible to sit in parliament by the high court and the fact there is only one national media outlet in Tamworth.
IPEA verified that Joyce had an increase in workload which “contributed to the increased travel pattern” and concluded he had undertaken official parliamentary business on every trip claimed.
But it noted that before 1 January the expenses framework had relied on a “subjective assessment” because only Joyce could determine if the stays were “primarily occasioned [by] official business”.
Joyce’s travel after 1 January 2018 met the new, higher standard that travel must be for the “dominant purpose” of official business and represented “value for money” for taxpayers, it said.
In February 2017 Joyce repaid $780 for the cost of a hire car to return him from his home base in Tamworth to a family holiday in the Sunshine Coast, after being called to Canberra on urgent ministerial business in early January that year.
Campion left Joyce’s office in April 2017, moving to the office of his colleague and close ally Matt Canavan before working for then Nationals whip Damian Drum. Joyce denied breaching ministerial rules because he said Campion was not his partner at the time she worked for him.
In relation to Campion, the report found she had incurred $29,745 in expenses in 12 months working for Joyce and $4,149 in five months working for Canavan.
IPEA found all of her travel was authorised and within the rules, except for one instance when she broke a journey from Gladstone to Canberra with three nights in Sydney instead of two because she fell ill.
For this, Campion repaid $100 of taxi costs which were “the only expenses paid relating to the longer than permitted break in travel”, IPEA said.
The only other anomaly was an unsubmitted travel and motor vehicle allowance claim for 2017, for which Campion picked up an extra $978 as a result of the audit.
However, IPEA said it was beyond its jurisdiction to inquiry into the merits of events and official meetings for which travel was undertaken and “the basis on which Ms Campion was employed in, or moved between, offices”.
Asked about Joyce’s future at a press conference on Thursday, the Nationals leader, Michael McCormack, said that he would “continue to do a good job as the member for New England”.
When Joyce resigned in February he said that “without a shadow of a doubt” he would remain the member for New England, but did not rule out a return as deputy prime minister.
In an interview together with Campion in June, Joyce revealed he campaigned to hold his seat during last year’s byelection in the full knowledge he would have to stand down as leader of the National party and deputy prime minister – yet he repeatedly refused to disclose any details about his private life.
The interview angered colleagues, prompting suggestions from Darren Chester the party had “moved on” from Joyce and a warning from McCormack that he would need to win preselection to recontest the seat for the Nationals.