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Malcolm Turnbull's office signed Vikki Campion's job transfer

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A key adviser to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull helped to formalise a job transfer for the partner of Barnaby Joyce, according to new details about the controversial decision to secure the new position in a ministerial office.

The letter from Mr Turnbull’s senior governance adviser was signed on May 9 last year and gave official clearance to the new role for Vikki Campion, who was in a relationship with Mr Joyce at the time and is due to give birth to their baby next month.

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The role played by the Prime Minister’s office triggered detailed questioning in Parliament last month amid an uproar over the relationship and the way the government moved Ms Campion from one office to another to manage the matter.

Mr Turnbull fended off questions about the transfer in Question Time on February 12 by insisting his office only had an “administrative” role in the staff changes because the Nationals made the decisions about where to appoint their advisers.

Fairfax Media can reveal that the formal process to transfer Ms Campion was known to the Prime Minister’s office in early May, when senior corporate and governance adviser Alison Green signed a letter about her new role.

The letter confirms the Prime Minister’s office knew of the new job, a matter of controversy ever since Mr Joyce’s relationship with Ms Campion was revealed in February and triggered a series of events that forced the then Nationals leader and deputy prime minister to resign and move to the backbench.

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A spokesman for the Prime Minister said on Wednesday, "The email simply confirms what we have always said: as is usual practice, the PMO performed a purely administrative role passing on the documents to the relevant department."

The extent of Mr Turnbull’s knowledge of the affair and the job transfer has been the subject of furious debate for weeks, given reports that Mr Joyce’s former chief of staff, Di Hallam, took steps in late 2016 to inform the Prime Minister’s office of the romance and arrange a job transfer for Ms Campion.

The letter from Ms Green confirms the transfer of Ms Campion from Mr Joyce’s office to the office of Resources Minister Matt Canavan took effect in May 2017.

Asked in Parliament on February 12 whether his office had approved the creation of Ms Campion’s new position, Mr Turnbull said this was a matter for the Nationals.

Mr Turnbull said the allocation of staffing positions was agreed with the Nationals and the movement of staff was decided by the Nationals.

“I’m advised that the Nationals are provided with a number of personal staff positions as a share of the government’s overall staffing pool,” Mr Turnbull said in response to the question from Labor legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus.

“The distribution of those staff members between Nationals offices is a matter for the National Party.”

The Prime Minister’s office has a formal role in the transfers, however, and the correspondence in May of last year shows Ms Campion’s new role was known to some of those on Mr Turnbull’s staff.

The government said it was not for Ms Green to authorise or approve or sign off on the appointment because her role as an adviser was and is an administrative position.

The Prime Minister's office was approached for comment on the story. It has consistently denied that Mr Turnbull and his staff approved the transfer of Ms Campion because it was up to the Nationals to allocate staff.

In response to questions about Mr Turnbull's knowledge of the matter, the government has described the process as a "tick and flick" by the Prime Minister's office to inform the Department of Finance of the staffing changes.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said last month that appointments are made by his department based on a letter from the Prime Minister's chief of staff or principal private secretary to the minister, copied to Finance.

“That is an administrative process; that is the Prime Minister and his office administering the relevant law,” Senator Cormann told an estimates committee hearing on February 27.

“But in relation to staff in National Party ministers' offices or the National Party more generally- personal staff within the National Party - the selection of staff is a matter for National Party ministers and members.”

But Mr Dreyfus has raised questions about whether the decision to transfer Ms Campion met the “high standards” expected of ministers.

Mr Joyce said in early February, two weeks before he stepped down, that he had not discussed Ms Campion's employment with the Prime Minister's office and he confirmed the Nationals were responsible for decisions about staffing in Nationals' offices.

"The Prime Minister's office has an administrative role in informing the Department of Finance of changes," Mr Joyce said in a statement on February 10.

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