Australia

Morrison backs Turnbull after 'frank' meeting between PM and Joyce

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Treasurer Scott Morrison has backed Malcolm Turnbull following a crisis meeting between the PM and Barnaby Joyce.

Either Malcolm Turnbull or Barnaby Joyce has to go to end the dysfunction at the top of Australia's government, Labor believes.

The prime minister and his deputy have exchanged a public war of words over Mr Joyce's extra-marital affair, a situation senior Labor frontbencher Richard Marles says is unprecedented.

"We've clearly now got a totally dysfunctional state of affairs at the top of this government," he told Sky News on Sunday.

"It would seem to me Barnaby has to go but I know one thing: one of them has to."

On Thursday, while announcing a ban on ministers having sex with staffers, Mr Turnbull described Mr Joyce's affair with former media advisor Vikki Campion as a "shocking error of judgment" causing "a world of woe".

That provoked an angry response from Mr Joyce, who said the remarks were "inept" and "unnecessary".

The pair met for more than an hour on Saturday to discuss the public spat, but the prime minister reportedly emerged frustrated that the Nationals leader still didn't seem to "get it".

Treasurer Scott Morrison said there had been a "frank" clearing of the air but the prime minister had not walked away from his earlier comments.

"It was very forceful and I can understand that Barnaby would be in a very sensitive frame of mind at the moment," he told ABC TV.

Mr Marles didn't take much comfort, saying no one could imagine "a meeting of that kind suddenly means they're the best of mates".

Tensions within the National Party have reportedly been reignited, with MPs spending the next week taking the temperature of their electorates before meeting again in Canberra on February 26.

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Joyce should resign, says Di Natale

Cabinet minister Greg Hunt said the Liberals would work with whomever the Nationals chose as their leader.

"From time to time there are issues between different parties but in one way, shape or form we have had a tremendously strong bond with the National Party and predecessors over the bulk of the last century and will continue to do so for the next century," he told the Nine Network.

Mr Joyce takes a week's leave from Monday, leaving Mathias Cormann as acting prime minister while Mr Turnbull heads to Washington to meet US President Donald Trump.

Mr Marles said that crucial meeting was being overshadowed by the affair, but stopped short of calling for Mr Turnbull to stay at home.

Mr Morrison also backed the prime minister's update to the ministerial code of standards to ban sex between frontbenchers and their staff.

"I'm happy to have a prime minister who's been prepared to call out a political culture in this country that has been going on for decades, if not generations," he said.

"If you sleep with your staff, it's not private any more, it's public because you're a minister in a position of responsibility and power over those who work for you."

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