News National A new leader for the Nationals but there are still rumblings behind the scenes

A new leader for the Nationals but there are still rumblings behind the scenes

barnaby joyce
There is already speculation Barnaby Joyce will recontest for the leadership in future. Photo: AAP
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The spectre of Barnaby Joyce still hangs over the Nationals Party, its new leader Michael McCormack and the Turnbull government.

Everybody is keeping their fingers crossed that he will contain his deep-seated resentment over the way in which his career unravelled.

A brooding Mr Joyce scowled though Question Time from his new vantage point on the backbench up in ‘Cockies Corner’, the section of the House inhabited by his colleagues representing rural and regional seats.

Any grudge Mr Joyce harbours against Malcolm Turnbull would only have hardened when the Prime Minister confirmed that he asked the head of his department Martin Parkinson last week to investigate whether the then deputy prime minister had in fact breached ministerial standards.

These are the old standards that go to conflict of interest, not the new ones introduced by Mr Turnbull to discourage other ministers following Mr Joyce’s “appalling judgement” by having “sexual relations with their staff”.

Dr Parkinson has now called off that investigation – there’s no need as the penalty has already been paid by Mr Joyce sacking himself. But there could be more pain for the member for New England.

The Prime Minister revealed the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority is examining “the use of travel and travel-related expenses” by Mr Joyce and his partner Vikki Campion.

While Mr Turnbull welcomed the election of the little-known cleanskin from Wagga Wagga as his deputy, the signs are ominous that either will get the clean break the government so desperately needs.

It was not only the media who dubbed Mr McCormack as a “seat warmer” for Mr Joyce to return, but colleagues who had just elected him fed the prospect.

Victorian Andrew Broad likened Mr Joyce to Winston Churchill – the British statesman who made a habit of reviving his career. His good mate senator John ‘Whacka’ Williams says who knows what the future brings and raised the spectre of a Joyce revival at or near the next election.

Michael McCormack
Michael McCormack has a tough task ahead to unite the Nationals. Photo: AAP

Mr McCormack went out of his way immediately after his election to wish Mr Joyce “well into the future” and he looks forward to “him being part of our very strong Nationals going forward”.

But Mr Joyce is believed to have encouraged Queenslander David Littleproud to make a run against Mr McCormack. Mr Littleproud hit the phones and is believed to have just fallen short of the 11 he needed.

The party room may have dodged a bigger embarrassment when the Courier Mail carried a story that Mr Littleproud owns a business offering unscrupulous rent to buy schemes like one which charges $8000 for a loan on a laptop worth $1900.

Mr Littleproud pulled out of the race at 11pm on Sunday, coincidentally after the paper contacted him but as it was clear he was falling short. Though in his withdrawal statement said he “was humbled for the significant support” he received.

Not so accommodating was the Nationals’ Queensland maverick George Christensen. He shocked many in the party room when he put his hand up. In his spiel before the vote he urged the Nationals to distance themselves from the Turnbull Liberals.

At the weekend on Facebook he urged the party to pull out of the “too restrictive Coalition”. Let the Liberals run the government and cop all the odium of unhappy voters tempted to vote One Nation, he opined.

His advice was rejected, although so insecure is the party about itself it refused to release the actual leadership voting numbers. It was a vain attempt to paint Mr McCormack as the consensus candidate.

NSW National David Gillespie is hoping Mr McCormack can “heal the turmoil and hurt in our party”.

It is no easy task.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics.

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