BARNABY: On Tuesday it's claimed plotters including Mr Keith Pitt held secret meetings in the ministerial wing of Parliament House.
BARNABY: On Tuesday it's claimed plotters including Mr Keith Pitt held secret meetings in the ministerial wing of Parliament House. Mike Knott BUN201217PITT1

Claims Pitt part of plan to oust Barnaby

HINKLER MP Keith Pitt has been named as one of three National Party MPs who were secretly devising a plan to try to oust embattled leader Barnaby Joyce earlier this week.

This is despite Mr Pitt earlier dodging questions from the NewsMail about whether the controversy surrounding Mr Joyce and his affair should be cause enough for the leader to step down from his position and whether he ever confronted Mr Joyce about his infidelity.

Mr Pitt told the NewsMail on Monday he was more interested in working for his electorate.

"Many of those questions are more suitable to be directed to the Deputy Prime Minister's office, but my priority is working for the people of Hinkler on announcements and policy, like the Cashless Debit Card, which I've been working tirelessly on to help the vulnerable children in our community," he said.

Late last year, Mr Pitt was demoted from his trade minister portfolio after a controversial Cabinet reshuffle.

Speculation was that Mr Pitt was dumped because he and Mr Joyce do not get along.

At the time, Mr Pitt told the NewsMail he had a "professional working relationship" with Mr Joyce despite media reports suggesting otherwise.

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.

A second WhatsApp group involving all Nationals MPs told a very different story as colleagues heaped praise on their leader.

One of the messages after Malcolm Turnbull's public excoriation of Mr Joyce warned: "Disunity is death."


Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce speaks during House of Representatives Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce . LUKAS COCH

Mr Joyce will take personal leave this week after increased pressure from many to step down as Nationals leader.

On Tuesday it's claimed plotters including Andrew Broad, Keith Pitt and Veterans Affairs Minister Michael McCormack held secret meetings in the ministerial wing of Parliament House.

Fortunately for Mr Joyce, the talks were repeatedly disrupted by the parliamentary division bells, buying him more time to shore up support.

Having weathered revelations he was expecting a baby with his former staffer Vikki Campion, Joyce's future hinged on whether he could explain the creation of a series of high-paying jobs for his now-partner Ms Campion.

Leadership tensions reached fever pitch on Tuesday night when a small group of Nationals began recruiting numbers to approach Mr Joyce and ask him to step down after ruling out a coup.

Despite a swell of support following the PM's attack on Mr Joyce this week, colleagues are increasingly unsure if he will survive the scandal.

Mr Joyce's 20 colleagues will spend the week in their electorates trying to gauge whether their constituents agree that he should stay on as leader.

That information will decide whether anyone is brave enough to force a spill at the next party room meeting, on Monday week.

Nationals backbencher Llew O'Brien said Mr Joyce is the "best bloke for the job".

"As it stands today Barnaby has my full support," he said.

"I think Barnaby is a good man who is going through a rough time ... I understand the Prime Minister wants to lift the standards but once you start talking about another man's family, you need to tread warily."