Barnaby Joyce says he’s not going anywhere, blasting suggestions he should be ousted as Nationals leader as a “witch hunt”.
The Deputy Prime Minister’s defiant vow came as his estranged wife was quoted as saying she did not want Mr Joyce unseated as Malcolm Turnbull’s deputy or as Nationals leader.
Mr Joyce, who has taken personal leave after his affair with a former staffer was made public, also played down a phone hook-up between Nationals officials on Monday afternoon.
“I am humbled by the support in my electorate and in the community,” he was quoted as saying by Fairfax Media on Tuesday.
“People are starting to see this as a witch hunt. I’m not going anywhere, I never would.”
Mr Joyce said the phone hook-up was not an official meeting, reiterating the leader of the Nationals is decided by party MPs.
Natalie Joyce was quoted by News Corp as saying she does not want her estranged husband to lose his senior roles in the federal government or National Party.
The report cited Mrs Joyce’s close friends as saying she has been worried that some in the Nationals party room are using the scandal to unseat the Deputy PM and claim the leadership.
Only about a third of the Nationals party room have openly supported Mr Joyce while six are locked against him and the rest have refused to comment, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Mr Joyce has been in crisis since it was revealed he had become embroiled in an affair with former staffer Vikki Campion and is expecting a child with her in April.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who will become acting prime minister on Wednesday when Mr Turnbull heads to the US, reiterated Mr Joyce’s future is up to his colleagues.
But he said he was very confident Mr Joyce and Mr Turnbull will continue to do good work together, despite their sometimes “robust relationship”.
“Barnaby’s had a difficult week, there’s no two ways about it,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“It’s important no doubt for him and his family, but it’s of course also important for the government, for us to get to the other side of this.”