Barnaby Joyce victorious in Nationals leadership challenge

Mr McCormack replaced Mr Joyce as Nationals leader in 2018.

Mr McCormack replaced Mr Joyce as Nationals leader in 2018.

Barnaby Joyce has retaken the leadership of the Nationals after a partyroom spill on Monday, unseating and replacing Michael McCormack as deputy Prime Minister.

But Mr McCormack says he plans to take his usual chair as acting PM in Question Time at 2pm on Monday, claiming he’s still technically in that position as Scott Morrison remains in quarantine and Mr Joyce hasn’t yet been sworn in as a minister.

It’s just the latest rocky development for Mr Morrison, who suddenly has a new deputy PM while he is quarantining at The Lodge after returning from Europe, and chairing an emergency national cabinet meeting on vaccines in the face of angry premiers.

The leadership change is also expected to make it far harder for Mr Morrison to make a concrete pivot to net zero emissions by 2050, which was cited as among the reasons for the sudden spill by angry Nationals unhappy with Mr McCormack’s leadership.

Mr Joyce, who will return as deputy prime minister more than three years after being forced out, rolled Mr McCormack in what is described as a close vote in the 21-member partyroom.

Nationals whip Damian Drum confirmed the vote just before 12pm on Monday, but as per Nationals tradition, gave no further details on the numbers.

Mr Joyce is set to address media at 1.45pm. In his own press conference, Mr McCormack said he respected the result, and wished Mr Joyce “all the best” in the new role. He resisted criticising any colleagues by name, but was critical of those he claimed were “backgrounding” journalists against him with anonymous complaints.

“If you are going to say something, have the guts and gumption to put your name to it,” Mr McCormack said.

“Don’t background against your colleagues. It is not good for the Parliament. It is not good for democracy.”

Mr McCormack earlier only gave a brief comment as he returned to his office after the partyroom vote, simply saying “that’s democracy” and that it was a “privilege” to serve as leader.

David Littleproud remains the party’s deputy leader. He also declined to comment in depth, but when asked how he was feeling, he responded “still alive”.

In a statement from quarantine, Mr Morrison said he and Mr Joyce had a “shared passion” for regional and rural communities. He welcomed his new deputy PM to the cabinet, and said he looked forward to “working closely together”.

“I thank Michael McCormack for his dedicated service as Deputy Prime Minister. Michael will continue to be an invaluable member of the National Party, and a passionate advocate for regional and rural communities,” Mr Morrison saod.

Senator Matt Canavan, a Joyce ally, reportedly moved the spill motion.

Monday’s spill came after a weekend of speculation around the Nationals leadership – described as “bulldust” by one cabinet minister.

Earlier in the day, Mr Joyce didn’t confirm he would challenge, but didn’t rule out a challenge for the leadership.

Other Nationals, however, said they were sick of the constant speculation.

“I don’t think that there’s even going to be a spill motion today, and nor should there be,” Nationals MP and Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester said ahead of the meeting.

“Regional Australia, they’re tired of the bulldust. They want us to be focused on them and the issues that matter to them.”

Fevered speculation erupted at the weekend that Mr Joyce, after years of trying, had finally secured enough support in the 21-member Nationals team to challenge Mr McCormack.

Mr Joyce was party leader and deputy PM from 2016-2018. He was forced out after his affair with a former staff emerged, along with a separate investigation into alleged sexual harassment.

The investigation later made no finding, and Mr Joyce has since had two sons with partner Vikki Campion.

He has also made no secret of coveting a return to the top job. An attempt in February 2020 was unsuccessful, but it’s thought that there might be another spill or challenge on Monday.

Mr McCormack said he was “not a quitter” and that rivals would “have to blow me out”.

“If I survive, then the people who actually run against me, I think they should think long and hard about their futures,” he warned on Monday morning.

Mr Joyce told Sunrise there was “no prospect of a spill at this point in time”, but didn’t rule out running if one was called.

“Ask me if that happens,” he told host Natalie Barr.

“How about, if you are offered a lot more money to work for Channel Nine, would you work for them?”

Mr Joyce said Mr McCormack was “doing the best job he can”, describing him as “a good bloke … working as hard as he can”.

But he admitted “there are times where I think we could do things differently” inside the party, and called for the Nationals to be more “clearly identifiable in our policy structure”.

Senator Canavan claimed people in the regions “desperately want someone in their corner fighting for them”.

“It’s nothing personal, it’s just we’ve got to make sure we put our best foot forward,” he said outside Parliament on Monday.

The latest rift was sparked after Nationals MP and Resources Minister Keith Pitt – said to be a McCormack supporter – said the junior Coalition partner had not been consulted on, nor agreed to, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s latest talk about “preferably” reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

-more to come

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