Resources Minister Matt Canavan has quit Cabinet to support Barnaby Joyce in Tuesday’s National Party leadership spill in Canberra.
Mr Canavan offered his resignation to Michael McCormack on Monday night after an alleged conflict of interest, hours after Mr Joyce said he would challenge the Nationals leader for the party’s top job when a spill is called by backbencher Llew O’Brien.
“Anything further is a matter for the party room,” Mr O’Brien said in a statement on Monday evening.
The party room meeting was originally scheduled to replace the deputy leader position, which is vacant due to Senator Bridget McKenzie’s resignation on Sunday after she was found to have breached ministerial standards in the ‘sports rorts’ saga.
Just before 8am, Matt Canavan stood in the Press Gallery corridor and backed Michael McCormack as leader of the Nationals.
Just after 7pm, Matt Canavan stood in the Press Gallery corridor and backed Barnaby Joyce as leader of the Nationals.#auspol is at it again
— Matthew Doran (@MattDoran91) February 3, 2020
Mirroring the circumstances of Senator McKenzie’s downfall, Mr Canavan said he had a sporting membership that he didn’t declare and had since reported it to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
It is believed to be related to his membership of NRL club North Queensland Cowboys and a $15 million funding decision for the Cowboys’ community, training and high-performance centre in Townsville announced in March as he carried out duties as Minister for Northern Australia.
The club’s application to Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) progressed in November, with NAIF’s board making an investment decision to approve a further $20 million loan to the project.
Matt Canavan says he also has an undisclosed membership to the North Queensland Cowboys, which he was unaware of until recently. The Cowboys received a grant from a portfolio he oversees pic.twitter.com/OgSNklmA5y
— Brett Worthington (@BWorthington_) February 3, 2020
ABC reports that Senator Canavan said he wanted Mr Joyce to return to the leadership to give the Nationals a more forceful voice in government.
“We are here to defend regional Australia … our constituents are under constant attack,” Senator Canavan said.
“We need a bulldog. We need a fighter to fight back against those who want to take away people’s coal jobs, who want to shut down cane farms.
“I do think a change in direction here will allow us to do that better.
“He is an effective fighter and that’s why I’m backing him.”
“You can’t just sit back and say ‘I wish things were better’,” Mr Joyce told Sky News.
“I have respect for Mr McCormack. I think he does a good job.
“The National Party has to be on the balls of its toes as we face some of the most challenging times. We have to speak with our own voice.”
Nationals MPs will also vote for a new deputy.
Water, Drought and Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud is the frontrunner to replace her.
Backbencher David Gillespie will also throw his hat in the ring.
Mr McCormack had earlier dismissed speculation his job was at risk and was confident he would continue.
“There is no vacancy for the leadership, at the moment, of the National Party,” he told reporters at Parliament House on Monday.
“I have delivered for rural and regional Australia.”
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester ruled out contesting the deputy leadership.
He backed Mr McCormack, saying the Nationals leader has the overwhelming support of the party room.
“We don’t try and roll people halfway through a term. He is doing a very difficult job very, very well,” Mr Chester told Sky News.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the concept of Mr Joyce making a comeback was bizarre and showed “how low they have sunk”.