National Party leadership tensions have exploded, with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack taking an extraordinary swipe at Barnaby Joyce, after the backbencher argued the Nationals were not “married” to the Liberal Party.
Mr McCormack said he understood what it took to have a successful marriage.
“I understand when you have a marriage that it’s a two-way relationship,” he told reporters in Queensland on Monday.
You don’t always get what you want but you have to work together to build better outcomes for your family.”
“I understand what takes to have a successful marriage.”
His comments were ostensibly aimed at managing tensions between the coalition partners over energy policy. But they will carry a significant sting for Mr Joyce.
He lost the Nationals leadership and his marriage last year after having an affair with a staff member.
Earlier, Mr Joyce sensationally claimed he remained “the elected deputy prime minister of Australia” and would feel no guilt in returning to lead the National Party if Mr McCormack was rolled.
“I am not going to call a spill, I am not looking for numbers,” Mr Joyce told ABC Radio National.
“If there was a spill, the position is vacant, I am the elected deputy prime minister of Australia, so I’d have no guilt at all standing – but I don’t see that happening.”
He made the explosive remarks after demanding the Morrison government bankroll a new coal-fired power station before the next election.
Investment in coal-fired power would be electoral poison in Liberal-held seats in southern states, where voters are demanding stronger action on climate change.
But Mr Joyce angrily rejected suggestions he was hurting the coalition’s chances of re-election.
“We are not married to the Liberal Party,” he said. “If we’re going to agree with everything they say, we should join the Liberal Party.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also rebuked Mr Joyce, insisting there will be “no change” to his leadership team.
Mr Morrison said he would not be distracted by the “nonsense” leadership rumblings within the Nationals.
“We have a fantastic leader of the National Party and deputy prime minister in Michael McCormack and there will be no change to that,” he told reporters in Sydney.
Nationals MP Andrew Gee, the deputy prime minister’s right-hand man, insists his position is not under threat.
“If it’s one thing the Australian people has made clear in recent times it’s that they’re not happy with leadership shenanigans,” he told the ABC.
Queensland Nationals MP Keith Pitt, who is among those pushing for new investment in coal, is not impressed the issue has morphed into a proxy battle for leadership.
“The leadership of the party is a gift of the party room,” he told Sky News.
“We are all elected as individual members of parliament, whether it’s in the Senate or in the House of Representatives.
“Michael McCormack is the leader, there will be no change.”
Senior Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen was bemused by the discussion, saying on Twitter: “It’s a Venezuelan style stand-off between two blokes who think they are the deputy prime minister. I reckon we just give Tanya Plibersek the job.”
Recent divisions in the Nationals were sparked by six Queensland Nationals rebels who are demanding the federal government fund a coal-fired station in their state.
Investment in coal-fired power would be electoral poison in urban Liberal Party-held electorates in southern states, where voters are demanding stronger action on climate change.
Mr Joyce angrily rejected suggestions he was harming the Liberal Party’s chances at the election in May by calling for more coal, arguing he was standing up for Nationals voters.
Mr McCormack, who is under internal pressure to take stronger action on energy policy, made some extraordinary claims of his own on Sunday as he railed against renewables and climate change action.
He argued pensioners would be “shivering all winter” and “melting all summer” if Labor wins the election and legislates a 45 per cent emissions reduction target.
“I mean sure, go down that path, but forget night footy, forget night cricket,” he said.
“You’ll have pensioners turning off their power because they won’t be able to afford it, and they’ll be shivering all winter, and they’ll be melting all summer.”
As the debate on coal rages on, new research from the Australian National University has found National Party-held electorates are the most vulnerable to climate change.
The six Queensland Nationals are also demanding the Morrison government put its “big stick” energy bill to a vote during budget week.
However, Queensland Liberal National Party leader Deb Freckleton has slapped down her federal colleagues, arguing the shelved divestiture laws are not the answer to the state’s power bill woes.