Australians are “tired of the bulldust” around the Nationals leadership, a clearly annoyed federal minister has claimed, warning Barnaby Joyce against a spill motion that could have Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack turfed out of his job within hours.
Mr Joyce, a former leader, is remaining coy but has not ruled out standing against Mr McCormack in a partyroom meeting on Monday morning.
But others within the party are sick of the constant speculation.
“I don’t think that there’s even going to be a spill motion today, and nor should there be,” Nationals MP and Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester said ahead of the meeting.
“Regional Australia, they’re tired of the bulldust. They want us to be focused on them and the issues that matter to them.”
Fevered speculation erupted at the weekend that Mr Joyce, after years of trying, had finally secured enough support in the 21-member Nationals team to challenge Mr McCormack.
Mr Joyce was party leader and deputy PM from 2016-2018. He was forced out after his affair with a former staff emerged, along with a separate investigation into alleged sexual harassment.
The investigation later made no finding, and Mr Joyce has since made no secret of coveting a return to the top job. An attempt in February 2020 was unsuccessful, but it’s thought that there might be another spill or challenge on Monday.
Mr McCormack said he was “not a quitter” and that rivals would “have to blow me out”.
“If I survive, then the people who actually run against me, I think they should think long and hard about their futures,” he warned on Monday morning.
Mr Joyce told Sunrise there was “no prospect of a spill at this point in time”, but didn’t rule out running if one was called.
“Ask me if that happens,” he told host Natalie Barr.
“How about, if you are offered a lot more money to work for Channel Nine, would you work for them?”
"There's no prospect of a spill at this point in time"@Barnaby_Joyce has hosed down speculation he will challenge @M_McCormackMP for leadership of the Nationals, but admits "there are times" he thinks the party "could do things differently." pic.twitter.com/GesavF6BdD
— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) June 20, 2021
Mr Joyce said Mr McCormack was “doing the best job he can”, describing him as “a good bloke … working as hard as he can”.
But he admitted “there are times where I think we could do things differently” inside the party, and called for the Nationals to be more “clearly identifiable in our policy structure”.
Senator Matt Canavan, a Joyce ally, claimed people in the regions “desperately want someone in their corner fighting for them”.
“It’s nothing personal, it’s just we’ve got to make sure we put our best foot forward,” he said outside Parliament on Monday.
The latest rift was sparked after Nationals MP and Resources Minister Keith Pitt – said to be a McCormack supporter – said the junior Coalition partner had not been consulted on, nor agreed to, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s latest talk about “preferably” reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
Mr Morrison, who is in quarantine at The Lodge after returning from the G7 in Europe, told 2GB radio he had “a wonderful partnership with [Mr McCormack]” and provided “great, stable leadership for Australia”.
“The Nationals will have their discussions, I’m sure, as they always do, and we’ll just get on with the job,” he said.
Another McCormack backer, Mr Chester, told the ABC the Nationals needed to sort themselves out.
"I don't think that there's even going to be a spill motion today… I actually think Australians are tired of this bull dust."@DarrenChesterMP tells @mjrowland68 he believes Nationals leader Michael McCormack will lead his party to the next election. pic.twitter.com/meIhZWDZK9
— News Breakfast (@BreakfastNews) June 20, 2021
“I think that Michael McCormack is doing a very good job for our country, for regional Australia, in difficult circumstances,” he said.
“I think that Michael will continue in his role throughout the day and lead us to the next election.”
Mr Chester admitted he was “grumpy” due to lockdowns, the pandemic recovery and natural disasters. His community of Gippsland, in rural Victoria, is among those battered by recent storms that left thousands without power, and he was absent for part of last week’s parliamentary sitting to help his constituents.
“There’s always mischief-making in Canberra and it seems to happen towards the end of a long sitting period,” Mr Chester said.
He pointed out that Mr McCormack had won numerous partyroom ballots to remain leader in the last three years.
“There’s going to be times that we don’t agree with each other. That happens in politics but by and large, we’re a robust and passionate bunch of people who come from all over Australia to gather in Canberra and fight for regional communities.”
The Nationals are due to meet mid-morning.
-more to come