SPECULATION is suggesting Barnaby Joyce is about to announce he will step down as leader of the federal Nationals.
Mr Joyce is understood to have called a press conference scheduled for about 2pm in Armidale later this afternoon. The conference will be live streamed here.
Sources close to Mr Joyce and within the NSW Nationals have indicated they believe the reason for him calling the media conference is to reveal he will step aside as leader, following unprecedented pressure in recent weeks, triggered by revelations of his affair with a staffer, when he was Agriculture and Water Resources Minister, who is now his partner.
“It’s been a massacre by media,” one source said.
Mr Joyce faced renewed pressure yesterday when Victorian Nationals MP Andrew Broad publicly stated his leader needed to step down and move to the backbench, and that he’d be moving a motion challenging the leadership, next Monday in Canberra.
Calls to Mr Joyce’s office have not been returned while others members of the federal party have also been contacted for comment but have not responded.
NSW Nationals MP Michael McCormack has been touted as one of the leading candidates to become the party’s next leader.
A claim which Mr Joyce has denied was also raised yesterday over an allegation of sexual harassment involving a West Australian woman which was one of the reasons behinds the WA Nationals indicating they did not support him as leader, earlier this week.
A spokesperson for Mr Joyce said he was aware of the new allegation.
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“Mr Joyce said he had been made indirectly aware and described the claims as spurious and defamatory,” the spokesperson said.
“He said allegations of wrongdoing should be immediately referred to police so that the veracity of any claim could be properly tested.”
Nationals Federal Director, Ben Hindmarsh said the Federal Party can confirm a formal complaint has been received.
“All complaints are taken seriously and treated with strict confidentiality and given due process,” he said.
Nationals Victorian Senator Bridget McKenzie said as acting leader of the Nationals she had been made aware that a formal complaint had been received by the National Party organisation.
“I am not aware of the details of the complaint,” she said.
“I understand the matter is being dealt with by the Federal organisation.
“But if the matter is criminal in nature I encourage the complainant to refer details to the police.”
Mr Broad said on ABC Radio yesterday it was time Mr Joyce took a “step back” to regain some “credibility” and “work through some issues that he needs to work through”.
“My guys are telling me, and this is what I’ll be taking back to Canberra, is he needs to step down as leader of the National Party and take a step back into the back bench for a time,” he said.
Mr Joyce has faced repeated calls for his resignation since the revelation of his affair with his now partner Vikki Campion was revealed earlier this month, in the first week of parliament sitting for 2018.
The New England MP has however strenuously denied any wrongdoing over the allocation of taxpayer funds while Ms Campion worked in his office, or was employed in that of other Nationals members.
Queensland LNP MP Warren Entsch, when asked about Mr Joyce’s recent battles with the leadership said “This is something for Barnaby to have to deal with - I just shake my head and step back”.
If he does resign as leader of the Nationals, Mr Joyce would no longer be Deputy Prime Minister and the allocation of ministerial portfolios would then be up to his replacement to determine, as per conditions of the Coalition agreement, with the Liberals.
If Mr Joyce did elect to sit on the backbench, then a replacement would also be needed for the Transport and Infrastructure Minister’s position that he currently holds.
A meeting could also be held as early as Sunday to determine any new leader, with only the House of Representatives sitting next week in Canberra from Monday and Senate estimates hearings potentially making the party’s five Senators unavailable for a fully constituted meeting, where a leadership vacancy could be filled.
Sources within the party are also hopeful that an election could be avoided, with 11 votes of the 21 federal members needed to win by any candidate, by holding discussions to choose the best and most suitable replacement, following considerations.
Other names apart from Mr McCormack touted as potential leaders of the Nationals are; Victorian MP Darren Chester who Mr Joyce replaced as Transport and Infrastructure Minister before Christmas after a ministerial reshuffle; NSW Nationals MP Dr David Gillespie who has indicated he would nominate for any vacancy; and new Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud has been mentioned as a future leader and made a strong impression early on in his career.
Mr Gillespie is regarded as a leading conservative force within the Nationals and may have the capacity to unite the embattled party following a controversial period that’s caused internal fracturing.
Senator McKenzie issued a statement following news of Mr Broad’s call for Mr joyce to resign as leader.
“The Nationals are proud to be a democratic party - all of our MPs are welcome to bring issues to the party room - and as always these are discussed internally in confidence,” she said.
“As the Nationals Whip has made clear to all MPs and Senators Monday’s meeting will not be a full Party room meeting, only the House of Representatives is in session and the Senate has additional estimates scheduled.
“There is no stronger advocate for regional Australia than Barnaby Joyce.”
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