Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. Picture: AAP
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. Picture: AAP

Barnaby on the brink as Nationals leader

BARNABY Joyce's support in the ­Nationals party room is in free fall as his colleagues consider how they can replace the Deputy Prime Minister.

The Herald Sun understands Mr Joyce could be finished as Nationals leader as soon as today, after a week of revelations about his affair with his former media adviser Vikki Campion.

Nationals MPs said they had been inundated with correspondence from angry voters since the scandal broke and they were now working on a plan to replace him.

But those pushing for change want to avoid a bloody coup and will instead try to persuade their leader to "do the right thing"and resign.

Ominously for Mr Joyce, Nationals MPs said that he was quickly losing his support base in Queensland.

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Talks were under way last night about forming a delegation to confront the embattled leader after individual attempts to speak to him about his position failed this week.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce in question time today. Picture: Kym Smith
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce in question time today. Picture: Kym Smith

As public pressure mounted, Mr Joyce's predecessor, Warren Truss, made a significant intervention, telling the ABC that Mr Joyce had "undoubtedly been diminished" by the affair, and that the matter had to be resolved quickly.

While the Deputy PM's position was deteriorating, he still had some support in the party room: one MP described those wanting him gone as "utterly selfish opportunists".

Vikki Campion in 2013.
Vikki Campion in 2013.

To avoid the bitterness of a coup, Nationals MPs wanting a change are pushing for an orderly transition to a new leader. Veterans' Affairs Minister Michael McCormack is the overwhelming favourite.

Mr Joyce apologised to his Coalition colleagues yesterday morning, telling them "every political career has a time of trial" and he was determined to work through it.

One MP said: "(Mr Joyce) has never been someone who gives in easily. He's wanted this job all his life and he won't go lightly."

A Liberal MP close to Malcolm Turnbull said the Prime Minister was deeply unimpressed by Mr Joyce's behaviour. "What people forget about Malcolm is, he is a little bit pious - he doesn't like this sort of thing," the MP said.

The Herald Sun understands a handful of MPs visited Mr McCormack in his ministerial office yesterday. He has strong support across the party in three states, and when Mr Joyce became leader, was the preferred candidate of several MPs known as the "anybody but Barnaby group".

Sources close to Mr McCormack said it would not be in his character to challenge and he would likely only accept the job if Mr Joyce resigned.

They had watched Mr Joyce's handling of the affair "in horror" and no longer trusted his judgment or that of his closest advisers.

Queensland backbencher Ken O'Dowd, whose seat of Flynn is one of the most marginal Nationals seats, said the political jobs that had been created for Ms Campion had "got under people's skin".

"I'm not predicting that anything's going to happen today but if it does there's going to be a lot of guys with their hands up, and I might just be one of those," he said.

Mr Joyce yesterday made an emotional apology to his wife and daughters and Ms Campion for the "unwanted public intrusion into what is an intensely private matter".

He denied breaching the ministerial code of conduct.



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