Nationals leader Michael McCormack has survived a near-death experience in a leadership spill to insist he can work constructively with challenger Barnaby Joyce.
“We’ve had way too much speculation about the leadership role, and it’s time to put that to bed,” he said
“The fact is, I’ve shook hands with Barnaby, we’re going to move on and we’re going to work hard together. He and I, and the rest of the Nationals team, for regional Australians.
“I don’t expect him to challenge again. I’ve been endorsed as the leader. I was endorsed last year. I was endorsed when he stood down. That’s three times.”
Mr Joyce’s camp insisted the Nationals leader had survived by a single vote in the secret ballot, retaining the leadership 11-10. That claim is disputed by some but impossible to verify because the party whip does not provide the ballot result.
Mr McCormack’s supporters claim Mr Joyce secured just six votes, retaining the leadership 15-6. That would be a tally of just two more than the core group of supporters, including Matt Canavan, George Christensen and Llew O’Brien, who lunched with Mr Joyce after the ballot in a parliamentary courtyard.
In a statement, Mr Joyce said the boil had been lanced and he did not propose to challenge again.
“The issue is finalised. This was made as brief as possible prior to the first sitting of Parliament for the year,” he said.
“I support the vote of the room and will strive for the re-election of a Morrison-McCormack government as this is definitely the better outcome for Australia and especially regional people.
“Now my first attentions goes back to where they were before this week: the New England drought, fires and now the threat of coronavirus.”
Heading into the ballot on Tuesday morning, Mr McCormack and Mr Joyce both claimed the edge in the 21-seat party room as MPs weighed the risks of a Barnaby Joyce resurrection.
Earlier, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Coalition would remain strong regardless of the outcome.
“The Coalition is between the Liberals and the Nationals. And that Coalition has always provided very stable and very good government for this country,” Mr Morrison said in Canberra.
“The Coalition will always be strong. And the leaders of the parties have always worked closely together for the good of the country.
But Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the spill was the “ultimate act of self-indulgence” on a day parliament was devoted to condolence motions for the bushfires.
“What we have here from the Coalition is a meltdown,” he told Sky News.
“If Barnaby Joyce is the answer, what the hell is the question?”
The maverick former senator and father of six struck amid a looming vote for the deputy leadership sparked by the resignation of Bridget McKenzie.
Mr Joyce’s leadership tilt was immediately backed by Resources Minister Matt Canavan, who signalled his intention to resign from cabinet to back the former leader’s return.
“I think we’ll be more effective at rolling that back under new leadership. I think the policy issues are quite clear in the National Party – a lot of what we need to do is put up that fight,” he said.
In a plot twist, Senator Canavan also revealed he had referred himself to the Prime Minister’s office over a potential conflict of interest over his membership of the North Queensland Cowboys NRL club and a $20 million loan it had secured from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, part of his portfolio.
“It came to my attention over the past week that I signed up as a regional supporter of the North Queensland Cowboys a number of years ago and did not declare that interest,” Senator Canavan said.
“In November last year the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility announced a loan, an investment, for the North Queensland Cowboys football club and my membership entitles me to a membership of the leagues club.
“I don’t have any control or influence over the football club itself, but at the same time that is an interest I should have declared but did not.”
Senator McKenzie resigned on Sunday over allegations she had breached the ministerial code of conduct by failing to declare her membership of a gun club that secured $35,000 for new toilets.
She said her membership played zero role in the decision-making process.
Within minutes of Mr Canavan’s revelation on Monday night he would resign if he was backing a leadership challenge, former PM Malcolm Turnbull weighed in with a cheeky observation.
After The Project host Peter Van Onselen observed “Hats off to Canavan for resigning from cabinet to back Joyce. Whatever your view on who should lead the Nats, a minister under Westminster should resign if not backing the leader. Isn’t that right Morrison, Hunt, Tudge, Keenan, Taylor?”, Mr Turnbull tweeted in reply: “Ihre Liste ist nicht vollständig.”
Translated from German, that meant: “Your list is not exhaustive.”
Ihre Liste ist nicht vollständig
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) February 3, 2020
Mr Joyce has privately criticised the weak leadership of Mr McCormack for months, raising concerns he was failing to cut through with voters.
Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon, who regularly appears on Sunrise with Mr Joyce, said he had delivered a “vote of no confidence” in Mr McCormack’s leadership.
“Barnaby Joyce just told us that the National Party is dysfunctional, and indeed hopeless. My concern is that a dysfunctional government just got a whole lot more dysfunctional,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
On Monday, Mr McCormack had declared his leadership was safe.
“We want regional Australians to know they are our focus. Not ourselves. Not the Canberra bubble,” he said.
“There is no vacancy for the leadership at the moment of the National Party.”