Labor questions the Deputy Prime Minister's fitness after today's announcement that he'll be taking leave instead of leading the country in Turnbull's absence.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on February 15, 2018

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce will not be caretaker PM next week, after a last-minute announcement that he’ll instead be taking personal leave.

With Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull heading to the US next week to meet President Donald Trump at the White House, speculation was rife as to who would step in as acting PM.

Joyce is next in line by right, and until Question Time today, was pencilled in for the job.

Turnbull repeatedly told the opposition that the Nationals leader still had his full backing and would be acting PM in his absence. This, in the face of ongoing fall-out from his extra-marital affair with his former staffer Vikki Campion.

But Sky News understands that while Turnbull was regurgitating affirmative responses to questions of Joyce’s fitness as acting PM, he was actually working out how best to alleviate his under-fire deputy of the responsibility.

“The deputy prime minister will be taking leave from 19 February to Sunday 25 February, and accordingly will not be able to be Acting Prime Minister while I’m overseas,” Mr Turnbull finally divulged to Parliament today.

Government Senate leader Mathias Cormann will take Turnbull’s place next week, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who’s currently in Kuwait, expected to be overseas.

Labor is using the announcement as ammunition, as calls for Joyce’s dumping over the breach of ministerial standards grow louder.

“Doesn’t the prime minister’s announcement just before Question Time about the arrangements of who will be acting prime minister confirm that the deputy prime minister cannot do his job? Or are we simply meant to believe it’s all a big coincidence?” Bill Shorten asked.