Nationals MP says Joyce has support 'at the moment' as leadership speculation continues

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce (left) and Michael McCormack. Source: AAP

Nationals MP Michael McCormack, who has been touted as a potential Nationals leader to succeed Barnaby Joyce, says Mr Joyce is the party leader 'at the moment'.

Nationals frontbencher Michael McCormack insists he has not been approached to challenge Barnaby Joyce for the party leadership, despite another Nationals MP suggesting he would make a "very good leader". 

But Mr McCormack, the minister for veterans' affairs, stopped short of giving a full personal endorsement of Mr Joyce as Nationals leader.

Mr McCormack has been touted as a potential successor to Mr Joyce, as the deputy prime minister takes personal leave amid the fallout over his affair with a former staffer.

The Riverina MP dodged several questions on Sky News on Monday about whether he personally backed Mr Joyce as Nationals leader, before offering: "Of course I support Barnaby Joyce.

"He's our leader, he's been a very good leader."

When asked the first time if he backed Mr Joyce as leader, Mr McCormack replied: "Barnaby Joyce has the support of the Nationals party.

"Barnaby Joyce has done a very good job of delivering for rural and regional Australians."

Mr McCormack said Mr Joyce had the party's support "at the moment".

"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," he added.

The leadership question is likely to be raised again when the Nationals party room meets on Monday next week. 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he did not know whether Mr Joyce still enjoyed the support of the majority of Nationals members and said "time would tell" if his apologies would be enough to retain the leadership.

But another Nationals MP, Ken O'Dowd, told his local newspaper a leadership challenge "could happen" in the coming days. 

"It's got to be resolved, we can't keep going on like this," Mr O'Dowd told the Gladstone Observer

"He might consider standing down from leader, going back to sitting in the National Party room. Or he can resign, or whatever."  

He said Mr McCormack was "very statesmanlike" and suggested he would make a good alternative leader. 

"I'm sure if the opportunity arises he'd make a very good leader in his own right," Mr O'Dowd told the paper.

"(That opportunity) could happen, it will depend on the next few days."

Mr McCormack also said he was not part of a WhatsApp group of Nationals pushing for change and had not been approached by colleagues to challenge Mr Joyce.

"Well of course there's been talk about what may or may not happen," he said. 

"But at the moment Barnaby Joyce is the leader of the National party."

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