Nationals spill: Barnaby Joyce ousts Michael McCormack as party leader

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce addresses the media after being elected as party leader for the second time in his career. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce addresses the media after being elected as party leader for the second time in his career. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Barnaby Joyce says he is "humbled" to return to the Nationals leadership after deposing Michael McCormack in a party room vote on Monday.

Mr Joyce fronted the media about 1.45pm alongside Bridget McKenzie and deputy leader David Littleproud, who described the vote as a "line in the sand" after a weekend of intense speculation over Mr McCormack's future.

Mr Joyce paid tribute to Mr McCormack and was careful not to criticise the Riverina MP as he faced questions on what triggered Monday's leadership spill.

"I want to make sure that we have a process that we can go to places such as Central Queensland, that we have the capacity to, on behalf of the Coalition, give us the very best chance of winning the next election," he said.

"I'm not detracting for one second or one iota, the qualities that Michael has and has shown the Parliament. I have a different suite of issues. I have a different suite of attributes and I hopefully will be able to apply them in such a way as to give us the best chance."

Mr Joyce said he "acknowledged his faults" and hoped he would return to the leadership "a better person". Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Mr Joyce said he "acknowledged his faults" and hoped he would return to the leadership "a better person". Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Mr Joyce resigned as Nationals leader and deputy prime minister in February 2018 after revelations of an affair with his former staffer and a separate allegation of sexual harassment.

An investigation into the complaint was unable to make a finding due to insufficient evidence

Asked what lessons he had learnt while exiled on the backbench, Mr Joyce said he "acknowledged his faults" and hoped he would return to the role "a better person".

"I don't want to dwell on the personal, except to say - hopefully one learns from their mistakes and makes a better person of themselves."

Dissatisfaction with Mr McCormack's performance, coupled with angst over Prime Minister's Scott Morrison's ambition to achieve net zero emission "preferably" by 2050, were seen as key factors behind the junior coalition partner electing to switch leaders.

Mr Joyce said he would be guided by the party room when deciding whether to push back against the Liberals' net zero plans.

"It is not Barnaby policy - it's Nationals policy," he said, adding that he would advocate for the best deal for regional Australia.

Mr Joyce's elevation will trigger a cabinet reshuffle, which will likely see Senator McKenzie return to the ministry a little over a year since she resigned amid the sports rorts affair.

Mr McCormack addressed the media about 45 minutes earlier, saying he is disappointed but wished Mr Joyce well as leader.

With his wife Catherine by his side, Mr McCormack said he was considering his future.

"I've worked well with Scott Morrison to ensure that we've had good and stable government in such challenging times, times that no one could have imagined," he told reporters on Monday.

"It's been bushfires, there's been cyclones, storms, floods, and of course, COVID-19, and all through it, we have been a good and responsible government.

I've been there to serve alongsideScott Morrison. In that time and I regard him as a friend, as a true leader of our nation, and I will go on supporting the coalition government, the Liberals and Nationals, to continue to serve this nation. We've been a good government since 2013.

"We have delivered for Australians. I'm so humbled."

Outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack with his wife Catherine Shaw after fronting the media following Monday's party room spill. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack with his wife Catherine Shaw after fronting the media following Monday's party room spill. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Earlier, the 21 members of the Nationals held a party room meeting in Federal Parliament where a motion to spill the leadership was put forward and carried.

The National whip Damian Drum announced the result, but did not give numbers.

"There was a spill motion put forward. Spill motion was carried. We had an election and Barnaby Joyce has been elected leader of the National Party at a federal level," he said.

"And will therefore be the going through the various situations that he has to go through, he has to go through a process now to be sworn in to have all the conversations, to talk to the Prime Minister, and effectively ... get on with the job of representing our people.

'Nothing has changed except for the position of leader."

Veterans Affairs' Minister and Nationals member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, is a backer of Mr McCormack and is expected to lose his portfolio.

"Politics can be brutal & today my party deposed one of the most dedicated, resilient & passionate advocates regional Australia has ever produced," he tweeted.

"I regard Michael as a personal friend & trusted colleague. Thankyou for everything you delivered for regional Australia #lovegippsland."

The incoming Nationals leader is expected to address the media later on Monday.

The Governor-General will have to swear Mr Joyce into the deputy prime ministership. It is understood the General David Hurley is currently not in Canberra, but there is a precedent for swearing in ministers remotely during the pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanked Mr McCormack for his service, while welcoming Mr Joyce's return to the leadership.

"I welcome Barnaby Joyce to the role of Leader of The Nationals and soon to be Deputy Prime Minister and I look forward to working closely together to ensure Australia continues its recovery from COVID-19 and the recession it caused," he said.

"Our focus remains on two outcomes - protecting lives and protecting livelihoods, as we continue to bolster our vaccine roll out and build on the economic recovery that has led to the creation of almost one million jobs since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Barnaby and I have a shared passion for ensuring our regions and rural communities thrive."

Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese has criticised the Nationals for focusing on themselves in the middle of a pandemic.

"The rolling of Michael McCormack, a decent human being, by Barnaby Joyce, represents the sixth combination of Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister under the eight long years of this government," he said

"It's a vote of no confidence in their own government.

"In the fact is if you want to end this circus, it's time to end this government. I've seen governments be self-indulgent before and get punished. This is a government that is being self-indulgent at a time of the pandemic."

Mr Joyce had downplayed that possibility ahead of the meeting, telling the Seven network "there is no prospect of a spill at this time".

Mr McCormack went into the meeting standing firm in the face of the second challenge to his leadership in the past 18 months.

"If I survive, then the people who actually run against me, I think they should think long and hard about their futures, and I think they should think long and hard about the role they need to play in government and they should stop being so destabilising," he said.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese speaks to media after the Nationals leadership spill. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese speaks to media after the Nationals leadership spill. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Mr Joyce's last attempt to roll Mr McCormack in February 2020 ended in failure.

Mallee MP Anne Webster earlier told The Canberra Times the leadership speculation was a "disappointing distraction".

"Regional communities are not interested in the internal rumblings from Canberra," she said ahead of the meeting.

"They sent me here to advance their interests, that's what I'm doing. The Coalition has worked well together to bring Australia through the worst economic set back in 75 years. We need to continue to support our communities to recover from this pandemic."

Prior to the party room meeting, Nationals frontbencher Darren Chester, a staunch McCormack supporter, said country voters were sick of "bulldust" around leadership tensions.

He believed McCormack still had majority support.

"He should continue, in fact I think he'll lead us all the way to the next election," Mr Chester told reporters.

Queensland MP Michelle Landry was hopeful of a "normal" party room meeting.

"People just don't want to hear us talking about ourselves and having leadership challenges," she said outside Parliament House.

"I for one have had an absolute gutful of it all."

Outspoken Joyce backer Matt Canavan said he wouldn't ask for a return to the frontbench under a change of leadership.

"There's a role for an independent voice in the Senate to play for regional Queensland in particular in my case," he told reporters.

While Liberal interventions in internal issues rankle Nationals, Prime Minister Scott Morrison threw his support behind Mr McCormack.

"I've got a wonderful partnership with Michael. We've worked very closely together and provided great stable leadership for Australia," he told 2GB radio.

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This story 'Humbled' Barnaby Joyce returned to Nats leadership in party showdown first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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