Barnaby Joyce’s prospects to stay on as Deputy Prime Minister improved on Wednesday as his deputy Bridget McKenzie gave a “rolled gold guarantee” he would stay in the job.
After going to ground amid speculation Mr Joyce was being urged to quit, Senator McKenzie was mobbed by reporters as she emerged on Wednesday afternoon to say he enjoyed the full support of the party room.
Senator McKenzie rubbished reports a “mystical delegation” had formed to tell Mr Joyce to fall on his sword, saying “somebody’s … talking a big game and not delivering”.
“Barnaby Joyce has the full support of the party,” she told Sky News.
Senator McKenzie would not be drawn on whether she thought Mr Joyce’s conduct had been fitting of party leader, though she conceded “there is an unease I think for all of us looking at this as a woman”.
“But I think we also have to recognise that we’re realists,” she said.
These things happen in every family, in every town, in every workplace across the country.”
Senator McKenzie likened Mr Joyce to a “rock star” in the regions, a nod to the feeling within the party that his campaigning skills would be crucial at the next election.
Asked if Mr Joyce’s behaviour would past the “pub test”, Senator McKenzie told a waiting media scrum: “There is a lot of people in the pub that would probably understand this issue.”
Nats come to Joyce’s defence
Senator McKenzie’s intervention followed apparent momentum for Mr Joyce to remain in the job, as other members of the 20-person Nationals party room also publicly backed their leader.
New Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, who was installed into Cabinet by Mr Joyce late last year, said those who wanted to “keep this issue lingering on” should “put up or shut up and leave him … and leave his family alone”.
Aussies HATE pollies talking about themselves. Yet some MPs are talking about ousting Nats leader after week of bad news, doing more damage to Nats & govt than anything else. More Libs in on it than Nats. Barnaby stuffed up. He apologised. Move on. There's real issues to discuss.
— George Christensen (@GChristensenMP) February 13, 2018
It came after Nationals MP Ken O’Dowd suggested a group was gearing up to tell Mr Joyce how the party felt about his leadership.
“Look, we’ve got plenty of people in the Nationals party room, a lot of capable guys there, and if it comes to that we would find a good leader, I feel sure about that,” he said.
Labor, which had so far chosen not to demand Mr Joyce’s resignation, stepped up its attack on Wednesday.
Asked by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten if he had asked Mr Joyce to step down, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull simply replied, “No”.
Mr Joyce, who sought sought to stave off threats to his leadership through a public apology on Tuesday, appeared in better spirits during Question Time.
In a political stunt, Labor asked Mr O’Dowd for details about an inquiry in his role as chair of a trade committee during Question Time.
Mr O’Dowd raised eyebrows by suggesting he might run for leader if Mr Joyce was removed on Tuesday.
Appearing to relish the attention, the Flynn MP said the committee would hold a public hearing tomorrow morning and that “anyone is welcome …
Mr Joyce was also pressed on whether he had properly declared the home he is living courtesy of a wealthy businessman.
He said was under no obligation to declare the rent-free accommodation because Greg Maguire was a “close friend”.
“I chose to declare it,” he said.
Parliamentary rules say gifts from a personal friend do not need to be declared if they are given in a personal capacity “unless the Member judges that an appearance of conflict of interest may be seen to exist”.