BARNABY Joyce may be rated at shorts odds to become the next National party leader if and when Warren Truss decides to step aside.
But Mr Truss – also Infrastructure and Regional Development Minister – isn’t giving away any secrets to the media about his future intentions and remains defiant under pressure.
This week as acting Prime Minister in Malcolm Turnbull’s absence on overseas duties, Mr Truss visited the Victorian rural electorate of Indi held by independent MP Cathy McGowan, to boost the profile of local Nationals candidate Marty Corboy.
At a media conference - where he also stood with the Liberal party’s pre-selected candidate for Indi, Sophie Mirabella, who lost the Victorian rural seat to Ms McGowan at the 2013 poll - he faced extensive questioning about the National party’s ongoing leadership saga.
The examination included asking whether he’d be resigning ahead of the upcoming election.
“I've said all I really intend to say on that issue,” Mr Truss said reflecting similar media statements made the day before.
“I'm busy at the present time trying to get our $50 billion infrastructure program up and running.
“It's been a pleasure to be a part of a government that's had such a huge infrastructure program and I'm concentrating my efforts on getting those sorts of things done - not just the big projects but, in particular, those smaller projects that benefit regional communities.”
Mr Truss became leader in 2007 and was asked whether Mr Joyce – the party’s deputy leader and Agriculture and Water Resources Minister – would be an adequate successor.
He said the National party’s deputy leaders had “a fairly strong record of moving on towards being leader”.
“I'm sure that Barnaby will be a very capable contender when and if a vacancy occurs,” he said.
“And I think it's a matter for the party room to make that choice (but) I'm just so pleased that our party room is so much bigger than it was a few years ago and therefore we have so much choice.”
Mr Truss was asked whether the next favourite to become the next National party leader – and his Assistant Minister – NSW Riverina MP Michael McCormack, had any leadership potential.
He said Mr McCormack was “obviously a very talented man who will undoubtedly make significant contributions to our party in the years ahead”.
“We're fortunate in the Nationals to have a great depth of talent and Michael is certainly among those talented people who will contribute a lot to our party in the future,” he said.
“But, of course, there are others as well and I'm sure that when the opportunities arise that they will put their names forward.”
With a cabinet reshuffle in the wings, Mr Truss also denied he’d been pushed by Mr Turnbull on his retirement plans and therefore to resolve leadership positions and the allocation of potential cabinet and ministry positions.
“Obviously, it's my decision and I choose to make that decision whether I'm going to go on forever or whether one day I'll retire and that's a decision for me to make,” he said.
“He (Mr Turnbull) has made that very publicly clear.
“It's no secret that I had a very good working relationship with Tony Abbott and I'm looking to that kind of relationship growing and strengthening also with Malcolm Turnbull.”
Last week, NSW Nationals MP John Cobb took a thinly veiled swipe at Mr Joyce’s leadership aspirations saying the party’s next leader - who he’d support - needed to be “sensible and measured” like previous leaders, when in the acting PM’s role.
He also suggested Mr Truss was performing and could remain leader if he decided to continue, for another three-year term.
“If you were the Prime Minister, John Howard at that time, you would know that somebody as sensible as John Anderson would do everything while you're away," Mr Cobb told ABC radio.
“In the same way, whether it was Tony Abbott or Malcolm Turnbull, they know that Warren Truss will do what is eminently sensible while he was away.
“That is the sort of question you have to ask yourself about who should be the leader of the National Party.”
On the fire-affected areas he toured around Chiltern, Indigo Creek, and Barnawartha, Mr Truss told the media conference it was obvious there had been “significant devastation” in some of those farming areas.
“The loss of pastures, the loss of fencing, the loss of houses, stock, is a clear blow to the local community,” he said.
“At a time when cattle prices are high, when the opportunities are great for the industry, it's particularly distressing to have these losses (but) we're thankful that there was no loss of life.”
This week Mr Truss also announced the second round of a commonwealth program to provide $100 million to rebuild, renew and replace around 160 bridges across Australia.
“There are tens of thousands of these bridges across the country and so clearly we're only just touching the tip of the iceberg - but it is making a difference,” he said.
“It's a hugely popular program and it's one that we're very proud to be implementing.”