Australian leaders open hostile rift over office affair

Barnaby Joyce says he was approached by a friend with an offer of accommodation

Malcolm Turnbull says he would sack any minister in breach of his new ban on sexual relationships with staff, and is not sure whether Barnaby Joyce now commands majority support in the Nationals party room.

The saga has played out on the front pages of Australia's newspapers for days, with Mr Joyce confirming that his now partner Vikki Campion is pregnant with his child.

The ABC understands the pair met for over an hour and agreed they needed to work together.

Of the voters who want Mr Joyce gone, 29 per cent believe the New England MP should step down as the Nationals leader but remain on the backbench while 21 per cent believe he should step down and not recontest the next election.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has lambasted Joyce over the affair that ended his 24-year marriage and accused him of making a "shocking error of judgment".

Asked if Mr Joyce could be "rehabilitated", Mr Turnbull told journalist Liz Hayes: "He's apologised".

My Joyce described the comments as "inept" and "unnecessary" at his own press conference on Friday. The revelations have damaged father-of-four Joyce's credibility as a family man and he's also facing claims he allowed Campion to work in his and another ministerial office during the affair - potentially breaching the ministerial code of conduct.

He told Joyce to take leave and consider his position, leaving Finance Minister Mathias Cormann as acting prime minister while Turnbull visits the United States next week.

The scandal prompted the Prime Minister to ban sexual relationships between ministers and their staff.

But she said Mr Joyce's future was in the hands of his Nationals colleagues.

But the Veterans Affairs Minister has fuelled speculation after stopping short of giving a full personal endorsement of Mr Joyce as Nationals leader.

Nationals President Larry Anthony, the party's most senior bureaucrat and a former legislator, said the meeting resolved to give Joyce more time to ride out his controversies.

Meanwhile Malcolm Turnbull's personal approval ratings fell, dropping five points to 40 per cent, leaving only a seven point margin between the Liberal leader and Labor leader Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister. "We are an independent unit and make our own decisions".

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said yesterday, "The way these two men are behaving, neither is fit for the high offices they now hold".

Turnbull said the leadership of the National party was a matter for the Nationals.

The spat risks returning Australia to political turmoil that voters had hoped was behind them.



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