'I'm not going anywhere': Joyce vows to fight for leadership

Barnaby Joyce says he will not ‘run away from a fight’, amid growing speculation about a potential Nationals leadership challenge

Deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce has vowed to fight to retain the leadership of the Nationals, after a fellow Nationals MP said Mr Joyce was the leader “at the moment” but would not rule out a challenge.

There is growing speculation the Nationals leader is under pressure from colleagues, ahead of a Nationals party room meeting scheduled for Monday.

Mr Joyce is on his first day of a week of personal leave, which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull suggested he take after Mr Joyce’s affair with an ex-staffer was revealed in the national media.

In an interview with Fairfax Media, a defiant Barnaby Joyce warned he would not be ousted without a fight.

“People are starting to see this as a witch hunt,” Mr Joyce said.

“I’m not going anywhere, I never would.”

Nationals MP Michael McCormack is touted as a potential future leader. In an awkward Sky News interview on Monday, he was repeatedly asked whether he personally supported Mr Joyce.

“There is no spill, there is no vacancy at the moment and certainly Barnaby Joyce will continue to be the leader as long as he gets the support of the Nationals party room," Mr McCormack said, before eventually offering: “Of course I support Barnaby Joyce”.

Another backbench Nationals MP Ken O’Dowd told his local paper a leadership spill “could happen” but it would “depend on the next few days”.

But Mr Joyce said he had been “humbled” by the support of his electorate and the community.

He also played down a phone hook-up between Nationals officials on Monday afternoon, saying the leadership was decided by MPs and senators, not party officials.

A Newspoll published by The Australian on Monday found 65 per cent Australian voters believe Mr Joyce should quit as Nationals leader and either go to the backbench or quit politics altogether.

Queensland Nationals MP Llew O'Brien said while some people were concerned about the crisis engulfing Mr Joyce, just as many, if not more, were supportive of him.

Asked if there was any chance Mr Joyce would be rolled as 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 on Monday said he could not say if the deputy prime minister would survive as Nationals leader.

Speaking in London, Foreign Minister and deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop said there had been "more than enough commentary" on Mr Joyce's situation and she wasn't going to add to it.

with wires

Published 20 February 2018 at 6:42am, updated 20 February 2018 at 1:44pm
By James Elton-Pym