NATIONAL Party leader Warren Truss was absent from a media announcement in Canberra this week launching the Coalitions new regional policy development agenda, but that didn't halt continued questioning about his future.
Instead, the Deputy Prime Minister's and Infrastructure and Regional Development Minister's assistant Michael McCormack fended-off questioning including whether he'd leapfrog current deputy Barnaby Joyce for the top job, if and when Mr Truss retired.
Mr McCormack said Mr Truss was unable to attend the media announcement due to a cabinet meeting taking priority.
The Riverina MP also rejected a suggestion the new regional policy initiative announcement was an opportunity - provided by Mr Truss - to boost his media profile in view of any leadership challenge.
The National Party's federal members will meet in Canberra next Monday, ahead of parliament starting the following day for the first time in 2016, with leadership speculation intensifying.
Talk has suggested Mr Truss may step down in March, having been the National Party leader since 2007 and represented his Queensland seat of Wide Bay since 1990.
Victorian Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie denied the on-going leadership speculation, linked to Mr Truss's future, was becoming frustrating.
"As far as I'm concerned it's exactly that - speculation," she said.
"Media speculating on media, speculating on media.
"Until Warren Truss tells the party room that he's resigning, he's my leader and he has my full support."
Asked whether Mr Truss should bring forward his retirement announcement to provide greater certainty, Mr McCormack said if and when the leader made a decision, he would put his Wide Bay constituents "first and foremost".
"He will also do it with the interests of the National Party and he'll also do it as Warren would - and it might sound glib but it's the honest truth, because this is how Warren Truss thinks - he will do it with the nation's best interests at heart.
"The last person Warren Truss will think about is Warren Truss.
"That's how he's always led our party, that's how he'll continue to lead our party.
"He's given nothing away and he has the full support of his 20 colleagues in the party room."
Mr McCormack was also forced to address questions about his potential plans to be a candidate for the party's leadership.
He said Mr Truss had not indicated he was retiring "any time soon" and all 21 party members were "fully supportive" of the leadership.
"There's no party in Australia which shows more loyalty to its leader than the National Party," he said.
"My intentions are to work hard as Warren Truss's assistant minister and when Warren Truss decides to retire, then we'll see what happens then."
But Mr McCormack was coy on saying whether he supported Mr Joyce as a potential leader saying "we will wait and see".
He said Mr Joyce was "doing a fine job" in his role as Agriculture and Water Resources Minister and "an exemplary job" as the party's deputy leader.
"There's absolutely no ring to be throwing any hat into at the moment and until that time comes then I'm just going to be continuing to do my job," Mr McCormack said.
"And certainly, this new regional development policy is going to take a lot of work and a lot of visits right around Australia and that's my focus at the moment.
"The National Party is one party which actually doesn't ever naval gaze."