Senior Nationals 'openly' planning leadership challenge to Barnaby Joyce

Barnaby Joyce and Christopher Pyne

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Now, information released by the Courier Mail, has put Mr Pitt and other National Party MPs at the forefront of the controversy with claims the group used the messaging service WhatsApp to challenge their leader.

The trigger for the Prime Minister's decision was a scandal involving Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, whose 24-year long marriage broke down last year after he had an affair with a staff member, who is now pregnant with their baby, CNN reported.

The prime minister and his deputy met for more than an hour on Saturday after exchanging a war of words over Mr Joyce's extra-marital affair.

Yesterday, Mr Turnbull "threw Joyce under the bus", announcing his deputy would not be acting prime minister when he visits the U.S. next week, and described Mr Joyce's affair with former staffer Ms Campion "a shocking error of judgment".

Mr Joyce described the comments as "inept" and "unnecessary".

While Mr Joyce was expecting that announcement, the ABC understands he was not expecting the public dressing down from Mr Turnbull in which he invited his deputy to "consider his own position".

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In a move interpreted by some as punishing his deputy, Turnbull announced Thursday that Joyce would not become acting prime minister next week when Turnbull travels to the United States.

"If a member of parliament has something to say to another member of parliament he or she should knock on the door or pick up the phone", Mr Abbott told reporters.

Mr Joyce's affair with ex-staffer Vikki Campion has prompted Mr Turnbull to rewrite the ministerial code of conduct, which covers the behaviour of senior government MPs, to include a clause banning sexual relations between ministers and their staff.

Asked if he would contest the leadership, Mr McCormack said: 'I don't get too far ahead of myself in anything in politics'. Earlier on Saturday, Liberal senator Ian Macdonald called for Mr Joyce to be demoted to the backbench on account of his actions.

With a one-seat majority in the Lower House, the Liberal Party relies on the Nationals' support so despite the damage caused by Mr Joyce, the Prime Minister has no choice but to work with him. Without attributing judgment to anyone, it's just got to end.

Labor MP Pat Conroy described the entire scenario as a "soap opera". "There's a massive question to answer".

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Malcolm Turnbull said his meeting with Barnaby Joyce on Saturday was "frank and warm, friendly, good, (and) constructive".

"Well, I'm sorry - if you sleep with your staff, it's not private any more".

Speaking this morning, Mr Joyce was defiant in his position as Deputy Prime Minister and as the Nationals Party leader and it now seems the situation has gone from damaging to disastrous for the government.

'I don't know how the prime minister and deputy prime minister can possibly fix the division and dysfunction that we've seen in recent weeks, ' she told reporters in Adelaide.

Mr Joyce may have lost his moral authority as a national leader, but he was not going to respect the PM's authority.

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