Mallee MP Andrew Broad has urged Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce following days of equivocation on the issue.
Mr Broad told ABC Statewide Drive on Thursday afternoon that he will help bring a motion to the Nationals party room on Monday next week that will urge Mr Joyce to step down.
Mr Joyce has been fighting off claims that he misused taxpayer funds to support his partner and former staff member after their affair broke up Mr Joyce’s marriage of 24 years.
Mr Broad said the motion would state that Mr Joyce “should at this point in time step back, step down and be on the back bench and once he has things sorted out he can come back and make a further contribution to the country.”
Mr Broad did not state which Nationals MP or Senator would move any actual ‘spill motion’ to declare party leadership positions vacant and subject to a vote for new leaders.
He also declined to name any potential candidate for new party leader, who would become deputy prime minister under the coalition agreement with the Liberal Party.
After a fortnight of intense coverage of Mr Joyce’s private life and use of public funds, the government’s standing in the polls has started to slide.
“I have to sit here and think from a national interest and whoever has to be, at times, the acting prime minister of Australia...they have to have their mind on the job,” Mr Broad told the ABC.
“That is no reflection upon a person as an individual, that is a reflection on the role and the responsibilities we have as MPs in the national interest.”
Mr Broad said he hoped his National Party colleagues would act on the matter “sooner rather than later” and he would bring feedback from his constituents to Canberra.
Mr Joyce is currently on a week of personal leave while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is visiting the United States, a situation that would normally have made him acting prime minister.
Quote from the late Billy Graham “when wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost”... telling words for the Leadership of the National Party.— Andrew Broad MP (@broad4mallee) February 21, 2018
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Broad said he just wanted to “get on with the job” of representing his electorate when asked about his position on Mr Joyce’s leadership.
Mr Broad also urged journalists in Parliament House to “shut up” about the issue.
Riverina MP and Veterans’ Affairs Minister Michael McCormack told Sky News on Monday that he had not met with Mr Broad and Hinkler MP Keith Pitt to discuss removing Mr Joyce as leader.
“There has been a lot of reporting about so called meetings in ministerial offices between the Member for Hinkler, the Member for Mallee and myself,” Mr McCormack said.
“No such meetings have taken place, in fact the Member for Mallee visited my office last week to talk about a Veterans Affair matter and a regional affair matter...no such discussion about Barnaby Joyce has taken place in my office.”
The Sunday Telegraph reported that during a ‘war game’ for a leadership challenge, “plotters including Andrew Broad, Keith Pitt and Mr McCormack held secret meetings in the ministerial wing of Parliament House” on Tuesday.
It was also reported that Nationals MPs were using the smartphone messaging service WhatsApp to discuss Mr Joyce’s future.
Political reporters from BuzzFeed and the Sunday Telegraph posted on social media that Mr Broad’s use of WhatsApp accidentally interrupted an ‘Our Watch’ event for the prevention of family violence on Tuesday night.
“Turns out Broad was scrolling through the Nat MPs WhatsApp thread about Joyce's future when he clicked on the Sky News video and couldn't figure out how to turn it off,” BuzzFeed’s Alice Workman posted on Twitter.
Turns out Broad was scrolling through the Nat MPs WhatsApp thread about Joyce's future when he clicked on the Sky News video and couldn't figure out how to turn it off.— Alice Workman (@workmanalice) February 13, 2018
Mr Broad last week defended Mr Joyce after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull attacked the National Party leader’s conduct and judgement.
“Barnaby has never said at any point that he’s a saint,” Mr Broad said.
Speaking on ABC radio, Mr Broad said the National Party would not be pushed into making a decision by Mr Turnbull over their leadership positions in the wake of Mr Joyce’s extramarital affair with a former staff member.
Mr Broad agreed with assertions that Mr Joyce had made “many mistakes” this week in handling the revelations about his personal life and that the scandal had “destroyed” the government’s attempts to communicate its policies.
Mr Broad said it was a “fair assessment” that he would reconsider his support for Mr Joyce if it could be shown that he abused his position or misused taxpayer funds.
On Thursday afternoon, Mr Turnbull used a televised press conference to accuse Mr Joyce of a “shocking error of judgement”.
Mr Turnbull also announced changes to ministerial standards that would ban any sexual relationship between a minister and a staff member, whether the minister was married or single.
Mr Joyce himself hit back on late Friday morning with his own televised remarks, vowing not to resign of his own accord and labeling Mr Turnbull’s comments as “inept” and “unnecessary”.
“I have to say that because I listened to it and I thought that was completely unnecessary and all that is going to do is basically pull the scab off to everybody to have a look at.”
Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten Mr Turnbull and Mr Joyce were "at war with each other” and either man was fit for high office at the top of government.