‘Overinflated opinion of himself’: Nationals MPs speak out on chances of Barnaby return

Colleagues believe one-time deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce is unlikely to return as party leader.

Colleagues believe one-time deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce is unlikely to return as party leader. Photo: AAP

Nationals MPs have poured cold water on the prospects of Barnaby Joyce returning to the party’s leadership and a challenge for the top job that could spark a damaging internal war over climate change.

News Corporation’s Daily Telegraph reported on Sunday that the Nationals were “set for a change of leadership” amid rising discontent about its direction under David Littleproud, who has been in the top job for one year. 

Either former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce or Keith Pitt, a staunch advocate of nuclear energy and greater fossil fuel exploration, would be in the frame for a spill, the Telegraph reported

But MPs told The New Daily there was no support in the party for overthrowing Mr Littleproud.

“Complete garbage,” said one MP. “Two blokes who have overinflated opinions of themselves and nothing more.”

“No truth at all,” another MP said of the prospects of a challenger having the numbers to topple the leader.

“First I have heard of it,” a third MP said.

Old wounds

Channel Nine reported that Mr Joyce denied being the source of the story and said he was too busy raising two young children to return to the leadership.

Mr Pitt did not respond to a question about whether he was eyeing the top job. 

The former resources minister was overruled on a controversial gas exploration project by former prime minister Scott Morrison, who had secretly assumed his portfolio responsibilities. 

After the election, Mr Pitt was dropped from the Opposition frontbench in what supporters regarded as a snub.

Mr Pitt has refused to publicly back the science of climate change or the need to reduce carbon emissions. 

A leadership tilt would likely reopen old wounds in the Nationals over its commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” by 2050 and between a faction of Queensland MPs closely tied to the mining industry and other state divisions. 

Mr Joyce returned to the leadership following a 2021 challenge, when he promised to stand up to the Liberal Party during negotiations about signing up to the historic “net zero” pledge at a summit in Glasgow.

But after securing a deal on “net zero”, the former deputy prime minister took a stance opposing it – and the majority of his party room – which voted to endorse the plan 13 to 8.

Mr Joyce flirted with junking the pledge before unsuccessfully contesting the leadership last year after an election campaign which saw MPs Matt Canavan and Colin Boyce speak out against the emissions reduction plan.

Bruised egos

Mr Littleproud came to the leadership promising that the party would fulfil its promise to the international community on cutting emissions and warning against chasing ideological “extremities down rabbit holes”.

On Sunday, he suggested reports that he would inevitably face a challenge were motivated by “bruised egos” but said he would remain accountable to the party room.

“We’re all on borrowed time in politics,” he said.

“Don’t worry about that. No matter your political party. Whatever the party room decides, I accept.

“But while I’m the leader, I’m just going to focus on my job about not just holding the government to account, but being constructive where I can.”

The Nationals leader said claims he had lost his temper with members of his staff were Canberra gossip. 

News Corporation reported that some Nationals MPs were dissatisfied with Mr Littleproud’s leadership because the party had not done enough to differentiate itself from the Liberal Party.

Parliament rose last week for its winter recess and will not sit again for more than one month.

Mr Joyce was ousted after two years in the leadership he assumed in 2016, when reports emerged he was fathering a child with his former adviser. 

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