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Barnaby Joyce 'entertaining' but not leadership material: Penny Wong

He may be "entertaining" but maverick Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce is unfit to hold Australia's highest office when the Prime Minister is absent, acting opposition leader Penny Wong says.

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Senator Wong was responding to a Fairfax Media report in which Mr Joyce confirmed he wants the federal Nationals leadership, and position of deputy prime minister, should Warren Truss announce his retirement. 

Mr Truss is considering his future and there is speculation he could resign within weeks. 

While Mr Joyce, the Minister for Agriculture and member for New England, is considered a good "retail" politician who relates well to people, there are doubts over his nous in serious policy areas such as economics. 

Senator Wong on Thursday said even Mr Joyce's own colleagues had expressed concern about him becoming Nationals leader.

"Barnaby is pretty entertaining, but he is also erratic, and he simply doesn't have the sober and sensible approach to do public policy that the Australians expect from the holders of high office," Senator Wong said.

Erratic behaviour was "the last thing you want in someone who is one step away from being the PM and who is called upon to act as PM regularly."


Senator Wong cited Mr Joyce's "entertaining" time as opposition finance spokesman, when he mixed up billions and trillions and was repudiated by Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens for saying Australia could default on its debts.

"If he can't hold down that job, I don't know how you hold down the deputy prime ministership," Senator Wong said.

Mr Joyce told Fairfax Media if Mr Truss stepped down he would "throw my hat in the ring".

"The closer you get to the job – and I am close, being the deputy – the more aware you become of the work involved. It's a job I can do but I'm not in a rush," he said.

Mr Joyce listed his credentials for the job, saying he has "had shadow portfolios, been leader in the Senate, deputy leader of the party, been a successful minister. That's what counts. That's how people judge you when you're running for bigger things."

In May this year Mr Joyce drew international attention when he picked a fight with Pirates of the Caribbean star Johnny Depp.

He was outraged Depp had flown his dogs, Pistol and Boo, into Australia on his private jet without declaring them to quarantine.

Mr Joyce threatened to have the animals seized and given a lethal injection.

In response, Depp later labelled Mr Joyce as "some kind of sweaty, big-gutted man from Australia" at a press conference in Italy.

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