Michael McCormack has again refused to rule out he wants Barnaby Joyce’s job in his first television interview since the saga began.
Mr McCormack, the member for the Riverina, stumbled through an interview with Sky News on Monday morning after lying low for the last week.
Mr McCormack avoided several direct questions on whether Mr Joyce should step aside as leader of the Nationals, instead steering his comments to jobs and infrastructure.
“Barnaby’s taking a week off, I think it’s time that everybody took a deep breath and talked more about the things that matter, and the things that matter to Australians are jobs,” he replied.
To a direct question of whether Mr Joyce still has Mr McCormack’s support, he replied “there is no vacancy at the moment”.
“This has, sure, been unfortunate, it has, sure, been a distraction, but Barnaby Joyce is the leader,” he said.
“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 National Party.”
He eventually said “of course I support Barnaby Joyce”.
Mr McCormack was speaking from Darwin, where the city stopped to mark the 76th anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin.
Soon after the interview, he was trending on Twitter.
He was in Wagga for the weekend, attending a black tie function for the Murrumbidgee Turf Club’s 100 Club draw on Saturday night and spending time with defence families at an open day on Sunday.
He flew out to Darwin in Sunday evening.
He has so far declined requests for comment and issued only written statements to The Daily Advertiser.
“I am solely focused on doing my important job as Member for Riverina and my duties as Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Minister for Defence Personnel and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC,” a statement issued on Friday read.
“I appreciate the recent events in Canberra have generated much interest in the media and in the community, but I am getting on with my work as a minister and delivering for the Riverina.”
At the weekend, he told the Sydney Morning Herald that his colleagues would use this week to "take a temperature reading and see what their own constituents are saying and make considered decisions based on that", Mr McCormack said.
“Obviously what else transpires - not just in our electorates but obviously on a national front - has to be thought through.”
Asked if he would contest the leadership, Mr McCormack said: "I don’t get too far ahead of myself in anything in politics."