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Barnaby Joyce Loses Nationals Leadership Vote, Michael McCormack Remains Deputy PM

Barnaby Joyce will remain on the parliamentary backbench after failing to unseat Nationals leader Michael McCormack in a party room ballot.

Joyce mounted a challenge against former leader McCormack on Tuesday morning, the first parliamentary sitting day of 2020. McCormack won the ballot over Joyce, but the final numbers were not announced officially by the party's whip, as per party convention -- but it has been reported that the difference, in the 21-member Nationals party room, may have come down to just one vote.

"You'll never find out," whip Damian Drum told media.

David Littleproud was named the new deputy leader of the Nationals, winning a ballot for that position.

McCormack and Littleproud talk to the media after the vote. Image: AAP

"We will continue as a united team, to put the people of regional Australia first and foremost. I want to thank my colleagues for again placing their faith in me," McCormack said after the vote.

"We need to unite, we will unite. The people of regional Australia come first, not us. We're sent here to do the job and we will do that."

The returned leader said he hoped the party would "now unite" and slammed leadership speculation in the media, saying "it's time to put all that to bed".

Joyce will remain on the backbench after failing in his leadership bid. Image: AAP

"I would also say to the media, sometimes, I think, that there's been media speculation heightened only by stories that were, quite frankly, untrue," McCormack said.

"If they're not prepared to put their name to it, I don't understand why it actually makes the paper."

McCormack said he didn't expect Joyce to mount another challenge, despite what was reported to be a very close result.

"I shook hands with Barnaby. We will move on," McCormack said.

David Littleproud was elected as the Nationals deputy leader. Image: AAP

Joyce launched his leadership bid on the back of upheaval in the party, following the resignation of former deputy leader Bridget McKenzie on Sunday.

"You can’t just sit back and say you wish things were better. I have respect for Mr McCormack, I think he does a good job," Joyce said of his reasons for challenging the former leader on Sky News on Monday evening.

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It's On: Nationals Leadership Spill, Barnaby Joyce To Stand For Deputy PM

Barnaby Joyce will challenge for the Nationals leadership tomorrow, with a fellow MP saying he would call for a party room spill and vote.

The vote and in-fighting came on the day the parliament had set aside for an entire day of condolence motions and tributes to bushfire victims. Nationals minister Darren Chester took aim at his own party for the timing, and apologised to "regional Australians" for his colleagues "fighting amongst themselves".

“On a day when the parliament in both the House of Reps and the Senate is debating a condolence motion on bushfires, that we’d be talking among ourselves is quite abhorrent,” Chester said on Tuesday morning.

Labor senator Murray Watt called the timing "unbelievably disrespectful".

More to come.