Australia's PM meets deputy to fix sex-scandal split

By Alison Bevege

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has held crisis talks with his deputy Barnaby Joyce to heal a dangerous rift that is threatening the ruling coalition's one-seat majority.

A source with knowledge of the talks told Reuters that the pair met for an hour on Saturday and agreed to move on from a public spat over Joyce's extra-marital affair with his former press secretary, who is now pregnant.

The source requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak on the record, and would not give specific details of what was discussed.

Turnbull, who introduced a ban on sexual relationships between ministers and their staff on Thursday, said Joyce had shown "shocking error of judgment".

He told Joyce to take leave and consider his position, leaving Finance Minister Mathias Cormann as acting prime minister while Turnbull visits the U.S. next week.The Senate on Thursday passed a motion for Joyce to resign, saying he had breached standards of behavior expected of a minister.

Joyce hit back on Friday, saying the prime minister's "inept" comments had caused further harm.

Joyce leads the rural-based National Party, the junior partner in the centre-right government led by Turnbull's Liberal Party, a political alliance that has existed since 1923.

Turnbull refused to comment on Joyce's criticism but the tiff fueled pressure on him to sack his deputy, which would have put the coalition government's razor-thin majority at risk ahead of the prime minister's overseas travel.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott took a thinly-veiled swipe at Turnbull earlier on Saturday, saying in a televised interview from Melbourne that one party shouldn't give another party public advice.

"If a member of parliament has something to say to another member of parliament he or she should knock on the door or pick up the phone," he said.

(Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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