News National Australia’s new Deputy PM: Who is Michael McCormack?
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Australia’s new Deputy PM: Who is Michael McCormack?

Michael McCormack was sworn in as Deputy PM on Monday morning. Photo: AAP
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One of Michael McCormack’s first acts as Nationals leader was to literally throw his arm around maverick backbencher George Christensen – who had just launched a surprise last-ditch bid to steal the top job from him.

“George and I sat together in Parliament for the first three years and we were a noisy pair,” he said. “Luckily we had someone sitting beside us to calm us down. George has been a friend of mine and will continue to be so.”

The rebel MP from North Queensland aligns himself with the same rural conservatives who have long admired the party’s fallen leader Barnaby Joyce, himself once a National Party renegade.

Sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister on Monday, Mr McCormack, 53, will be tasked with speaking directly to those voters – and keeping them out of the arms of One Nation.

I realise the challenge and responsibility ahead of me,” he said of his new role as leader. 

“I will fight. I have never shirked from a tough decision and I will never be silent when I ought to speak.”

The new Nationals leader lacks the profile of Mr Joyce, who the party considered its best electoral asset before he was struck down by scandal this month.

Amid suggestions he was merely keeping the seat warm for his predecessor, Mr McCormack stressed that voters were interested in policies, not personalities.

Michael McCormack has three children with his wife Catherine. Photo: AAP

Born in Wagga Wagga, Mr McCormack was raised on family farms in the Riverina region and has three children with his wife Catherine.

Before winning a seat in Parliament, he served as campaign director for the former Riverina MP Kay Hull during the 2004 and 2007 elections.

When Ms Hull retired in 2010, he won the seat for himself in a three-cornered contest against Labor and the Liberals.

Mr McCormack is set to enter cabinet for the first time, taking on the crucial infrastructure and transport portfolios vacated by Mr Joyce, while also continuing as Veterans Affairs Minister.

He previously held the roles of assistant defence minister and small business minister.

“This government is working hard to ensure that regional Australia can grow and prosper,” Mr McCormack told Parliament on Monday. 

“I should know this. I’m from Marrar, a little village of 368 people. Mr Speaker, how good is it that our nation can have a Deputy Prime Minister from a little village like Marrar?”

Still, his ascension to the second-highest office in the land has already drawn the ire of some.

In 1993, two years after Mr McCormack became the youngest editor at an Australian daily newspaper, he wrote a homophobic column in his own paper, Wagga Wagga’s Daily Advertiser. 

Published on May 1, 1993, the piece began: “Dear readers, A week never goes by anymore that homosexuals and their sordid behaviour don’t become further entrenched in society.” 

Michael McCormack apologised profusely for his column in The Daily Advertiser.

Mr McCormack, then 29, subsequently published an apology, before saying sorry again in 2010 when the piece resurfaced.

Last year, he issued further apologies in August and December during the postal survey on same-sex marriage.

“Words hurt, and hurt lasts. I said sorry then. I’ve apologised many times since. I do so in the Federal Parliament again today,” he told Parliament in December.

In an awkward coincidence, Mr McCormack also took aim at the National Party in another hardly-noticed column published in The Daily Advertiser on the same day.

“Oh dear, the Nationals are at it again,” he wrote.

The column criticises then-Nationals state chairman Duncan Gay for “making excuses for his party’s demoralising performance” at the 1993 election.

Mr McCormack wrote then that the Nationals had helped the Coalition lose the “unloseable election”.

Twenty-five years later, with the party’s fortunes now resting on his shoulders, he conceded on Monday: “have a huge challenge ahead of me.”

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