Malcolm Turnbull defends criticising Barnaby Joyce, says he sought advice from wife

Barnaby Joyce and Christopher Pyne

The prime minister could not sack his deputy.

The week off comes after an opinion poll showed support for Joyce, a plain-spoken small-town accountant turned politician, had tumbled in his rural electorate.

Lucy Turnbull said she fell in love with the future Australian prime minister when he was a journalist writing a story about her father - former attorney-general Tom Hughes - for The Bulletin magazine.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that support for the embattled Deputy Prime Minister dropped after news of Mr Joyce's affair with staffer Vikki Campion broke.

Mr Joyce also rejected ongoing questions about his travel expense and other entitlements.

After Turnbull denounced Joyce on Thursday and said the deputy prime minister "has to consider his own position", followed on Friday by a counterattack from Joyce, the two men met for more than a hour in Turnbull's Sydney office on Saturday.

But revelations he had an affair with his former press secretary, who is now pregnant with his child, have created a political crisis that threatens to tear apart the coalition between the two conservative parties in government. Both agreed to move forward in the national interest, a government source told AAP.

"He was so dashing, and handsome, and amusing, and great company, so he was irresistible", Lucy Turnbull said.

But Turnbull said the scandal had prompted overdue changes to ministerial conduct rules, and announced new standards broadly similar to a ban on relationships between lawmakers and staffers adopted last week by U.S Congress.

Form PM Tony Abbott appeared to weigh in the unfolding drama during a television interview Saturday, saying, "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".

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"Barnaby would have known it would derail the government's line, the government's focus and it really is giving Bill Shorten a free kick", Senator Macdonald told the ABC.

"Friends do not charge friends rent and of course that seemed a more stable arrangement so I took him up on that offer", Mr Joyce told a media conference last week.

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

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. "That's code for saying, I need you to resign".

"In regards to the National Party, there is nothing that we dislike more than implied intervention into the party processes of the National Party", Mr Joyce said earlier this week.

A DEFIANT Barnaby Joyce has defended a trip away with now partner Vikki Campion, insisting she was acting as his media adviser at the time.

AUSTRALIANS believe Barnaby Joyce should resign as Nationals leader following his extramarital affair with a staffer, the latest Newspoll reveals. "At the moment, Barnaby Joyce has the support of the National Party", he said.

The government must call an election by May 2019.

"Does he care more about himself or the country?"

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