Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce is taking his first day of personal leave after a tumultuous week.The man tipped to replace Barnaby Joyce as Nationals boss says there is no challenge to his leadership “at the moment”.
Federal minister Michael McCormack has repeatedly dodged questions about the leadership, refusing six times to support Mr Joyce as leader.
“There is no challenge at the moment … he has the party’s support,” Mr McCormack told Sky News on Monday.
He also refused five opportunities to rule out a challenge at next Monday’s party room meeting.
“There is no spill, there is no vacancy at the moment,” Mr McCormack said.
When told it looked like he was refusing to support his leader, Mr McCormack eventually said: “Of course I support Barnaby Joyce, he’s our leader, he’s been a very good leader.”
Nationals executives from Queensland, NSW, Victoria, Western , as well as the federal body, reportedly held crisis talks late on Monday to try and resolve the crisis caused by Mr Joyce.
Another of the embattled deputy prime minister’s colleagues concedes “24 hours is a long time in politics” but he does not believe Mr Joyce will be rolled.
Queensland Nationals MP Llew O’Brien said there were obviously people concerned about the crisis, but just as many if not more were supportive of Mr Joyce.
Asked if there was any chance Mr Joyce would be rolled as Nationals leader, Mr O’Brien told ABC radio: “Twenty-four hours is a long time in politics. I don’t think there is.”
The Wide Bay MP does not believe Mr Joyce should step down, and would not be drawn on who he would vote for in the event of a leadership spill.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says his deputy’s affair with his ex-staffer and now pregnant partner Vikki Campion has harmed the government.
The latest Newspoll shows the coalition has lost the small gain it made on Labor earlier in the month.
“It’s distracting and it’s unhelpful,” Mr Turnbull told 3AW.
Mr Joyce claims the Nationals support him, but Mr Turnbull said he didn’t know if that was the case.
Nationals backbencher George Christensen said his electorate backed Mr Joyce.
“The response has been that he’s done nothing wrong, it’s a personal issue and people should just get off his back,” Mr Christensen told reporters.
Mr Turnbull says his wife Lucy has been in touch with Mr Joyce’s estranged wife Natalie since the affair, which he last week labelled “a shocking error of judgment”.
Mr Joyce called those comments “inept”, but has since insisted he and Mr Turnbull could work together.
Two in three voters believe Mr Joyce should quit as Nationals leader, a Newspoll published in The n found.
Mr Joyce has rejected ongoing questions about his travel entitlements, and Mr Turnbull said the Nationals leader had given him an “absolutely unequivocal assurance” there was nothing wrong with his expenses.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said if he were prime minister, Mr Joyce would have been sacked already.
Mr Joyce on Monday began five days of personal leave. With Mr Turnbull and deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop also away, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann will be acting prime minister.