Senior Nationals are openly canvassing a challenge to their embattled leader Barnaby Joyce, who was in crisis talks with Malcolm Turnbull on Saturday while Liberal MPs started openly calling on the Deputy Prime Minister to quit.
As the fallout from Mr Joyce's affair with a former staffer raged on, Riverina MP Michael McCormack - considered the most likely to replace Mr Joyce - did not rule out a leadership challenge but said he didn't want to get "too far ahead of myself".
He told Fairfax Media a leadership showdown at next Monday's party room meeting "depends on what happens between now and then". His colleagues would use this week to "take a temperature reading and see what their own constituents are saying and make considered decisions based on that", Mr McCormack said.
“Obviously what else transpires - not just in our electorates but obviously on a national front - has to be thought through," he said Saturday morning. Asked if he would contest the leadership, Mr McCormack said: "I don’t get too far ahead of myself in anything in politics."
He said Mr Joyce "has been a very good leader" who had delivered for rural and regional Australia, and "if the party feels that needs to continue then that is what will happen".
Another senior National, the assistant minister to Mr Joyce, Damian Drum, said he still backed his boss but acknowledged the party was split and there were arguments on both sides. "It's a very difficult situation we find ourselves in," he said.
Mr Drum said Mr Joyce deserved a second chance. "He has done such an amazing job for us throughout his leadership that he has earned the opportunity to see this through," he said.
Having spectacularly fallen out over the past 48 hours, Mr Joyce and Mr Turnbull attempted to reach a detenté on Saturday with an emergency meeting in Sydney.
Fairfax Media understands the hour-long talk was productive and conciliatory, with both leaders agreeing to move on and work together - less than 48 hours after Mr Turnbull said publicly Mr Joyce needed to "consider his position".
In a searing press conference on Thursday, the PM said Mr Joyce had unleashed a "world of woe" and "appalled us all" by having an affair with former staffer Vikki Campion, who is now pregnant.
On Saturday, Mr Joyce told the PM he understood the sentiment, but expressed his concern over Mr Turnbull's forcefulness - and also the timing of the tirade, which he argued undermined their ability to move on with the introduction of a new ministerial code of conduct to ban sex with staff.
Nationals remain angry over the attempt to oust Mr Joyce as their leader, which only increased on Saturday as several Liberal MPs went public in calling for the deputy PM to step down.
Queensland LNP senator Ian Macdonald, the longest-serving member of Parliament, told Fairfax Media his colleagues were upset and "tinged with anger" over Mr Joyce's handling of the affair.
“He knows better than I the damage that he’s causing. Without attributing judgment to anyone, it’s just got to end," he said.
“Clearly in his own interests he’d be better going to the backbench for a while, letting the dust settle and then come back and continue to make a great contribution to Australia."
Another LNP MP, Luke Howarth, backed Senator Macdonald's comments as "spot on" and reminded his Nationals colleagues "the National Party is bigger than Barnaby Joyce".
"Everyone is expendable," Mr Howarth said. "Calling the PM inept is unacceptable. Ultimately it’s up to them. All leaders should be actively trying to encourage new leaders.”
Fairfax Media spoke with several other Liberal MPs on Saturday who agreed Mr Joyce should go but declined to speak on the record. "There will be bridges that need to be built between colleagues after this is over and [I] don't want to burn them before we start," one Liberal said.
Mr Drum condemned the attempted intervention and insisted Mr Joyce and Mr Turnbull could "absolutely" maintain a functional relationship despite the turmoil of the past week.
"People [in the Nationals] are saying we’re not going to have the media, the Labor Party, the Greens or even the Liberal Party tell the Nationals who our leader will be," Mr Drum said.
"The more people try and dictate to the Nationals, the stronger the resolve will be to be in charge of our own destiny."
Former prime minister Tony Abbott also made a thinly-disguised swipe at Mr Turnbull over his successor's messy attempt to meddle in National Party affairs.
"I did not give public advice to my colleagues, and while I was leader of one party, I didn't give public advice to another party within the Coalition," Mr Abbott told reporters in Melbourne.
He also dismissed the need for a ban on ministers having sex with their staff, saying politics was "not a contest for sainthood" and he was "perfectly happy" with the ministerial code as it stood.
"Barnaby Joyce is a wonderful retail politician," Mr Abbott said. "He's been a very good Coalition partner to the Libs, and obviously there's been some pretty serious personal ups and downs, but the point I always make is we should judge politicians on how he or she is actually doing the job."