Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie has taken a swipe at Barnaby Joyce for fuelling internal tensions and demanding the federal government invest in coal.
State Nationals MPs – particularly those fighting the upcoming NSW election – have also rounded on Mr Joyce, and are urging their federal counterparts to “shut up” about coal and leadership.
Senator McKenzie fired a clear shot at Mr Joyce for focusing on issues of little interest to voters.
“What Barnaby Joyce is saying publicly is very different to what the party room is saying,” she told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Senator McKenzie said the Nationals backed a “technology-neutral” approach to reliable, base load power.
She clipped Mr Joyce for claiming he remained “the elected deputy prime minister of Australia” and would not feel guilty for reclaiming the leadership of the Nationals.
“Michael McCormack is our leader – we all back him to the hilt – he’ll be leading us to the federal election,” Senator McKenzie said.
“On any measure, the National Party has been delivering for regional Australia, and under Michael McCormack’s leadership we will continue to do so.”
Senator McKenzie is frustrated that Mr Joyce, who lost the Nationals leadership last year, was dragging the party into another public discussion about itself.
“I think Australia is frustrated, you know, that there is a politician out there that’s not focused on their needs and issues,” she said.
NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro delivered a blunt message for his federal colleagues bickering about energy and leadership: “Just shut up.”
Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh blasted Mr Joyce, saying people were “shaking their heads” at his behaviour.
“Barnaby Joyce had the support and respect of his colleagues and the party when he was deputy prime minister, and he owes that to the current deputy prime minister,” Mr Walsh told ABC radio.
He said the fact the ex-leader was not doing so “says more about Barnaby than it does about the Nationals.”
A team is always greater than any individual, Mr Walsh said.
“Someone should take Barnaby aside and explain that to him.”
The Western Australian branch of the Nationals has also distanced itself from Mr Joyce and cautioned against reinstalling him as federal leader.
Tensions between Mr McCormack and his predecessor have been bubbling for months and boiled to the surface again this week.
He took a veiled jab at Mr Joyce on Monday for arguing the Nationals were not “married” to the Liberals on energy policy.
Mr McCormack took over as the federal leader and deputy prime minister after Mr Joyce resigned following revelations he had an extra-marital affair with a staffer, who is now his partner.
“I understand what it takes to have a successful marriage,” Mr McCormack told reporters.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison paid tribute to the Nationals leader in a speech he delivered in Melbourne on Tuesday.
He said he had worked with Mr McCormack “from day one as a team” to deliver for rural Australia.