Barnaby Joyce has dramatically returned as Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader more than three years after he was forced out of the job following revelations of his affair with a former staffer.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack was sensationally rolled in a leadership challenge in the Nationals party room on Monday.
The spill was prompted by growing disquiet over Mr McCormack’s lacklustre performance as leader, particularly his inability to stand up to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Mr Joyce was effectively forced to step down as Nationals leader and deputy prime minister in February 2018 when details of his relationship with his former press secretary, Vikki Campion, made national headlines.
There will be no time to ease back into the role, with Mr Joyce due to stand in for Mr Morrison in Parliament’s Question Time on Monday.
Mr Morrison is currently quarantining in The Lodge, in Canberra, after arriving back from the G7 summit in the UK.
Mr Joyce stepped down as Nationals leader and deputy prime minister in February 2018 when details of his relationship with Vikki Campion made national headlines
Barnaby Joyce dramatically reclaimed the leadership after a spill motion in the Nationals party room. Pictured with former staffer Vikki Campion and their baby
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack lost the leadership after disquiet over his performance while Scott Morrison was overseas
Mr Joyce is considered not only a better communicator but a stronger parliamentary performer for the minor Coalition party.
Nationals MP Michelle Landry on Monday said female voters and women from within the party wouldn’t accept Mr Joyce returning to Cabinet and the office of Mr McCormack.
‘I think that if he became leader again there would be women out there that would be unhappy with that,’ Ms Landry told news.com.au.
‘It’s destabilising for everybody. Look, obviously there was a lot of feedback last time. I think he would have to tread carefully if he became leader again because there were women that weren’t happy.
‘There were women out there who made accusations, none of that was ever proven but I do know there’s women who would not be happy.’
Nationals senator Matt Canavan cast doubt over whether Mr Joyce would be successful in his bid to return.
‘I think the Nationals are suffering an identity crisis because Michael has failed to map out a clear alternate vision,’ he told The Australian.
‘Barnaby is someone who has done that in the past and could in the future. (But) I don’t think the numbers are there for him.’
A Liberal MP said it would be ‘disastrous’ for the Prime Minister’s climate change plans if Mr Joyce were to become the Nationals leader again.
‘Barnaby doesn’t care about getting us to a position on the environment which is sensible. He will turn the issue into a vote loser for us,’ the MP said.
Mr Joyce has downplayed the prospects of challenging for the Nationals leadership, but has not ruled out running for the leadership if a spill is called but has said he does not think that is likely.
Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce attends the morning prayers in the House of Representatives at Parliament House on Monday
‘I’ve read articles this weekend which are so far ahead of the show they’re entertaining but they’re just not correct,’ he told Network Seven.
‘There is no prospect of a spill at this point in time.’
Any challenger would need to secure at least 11 votes from the 21-strong team of Nationals sitting in the federal parliament.
Mr McCormack said rebels in the ranks would need to ‘blow me out’ because he would not be standing aside.
‘I will absolutely run,’ he told The Australian Financial Review.
‘I’m not a quitter, they’ll have to blow me out.’
Mr McCormack made similar comments to The Australian and Nine newspapers.
‘People aren’t dissatisfied with what I’m doing as deputy prime minister, they want my job,’ he told Nine.
‘If they do bring on a spill and lose they should be thinking of their own futures.’
Asked if Mr McCormack was doing a good job Mr Joyce said, ‘He is doing the best job he can’.
‘He is a good bloke and has been working as hard as he can.’
Mr Joyce’s last attempt to roll Mr McCormack in February 2020 ended in failure.
But it did result in Agriculture Minster David Littleproud – seen as a future leader – becoming the Nationals deputy leader.
Mr Joyce’s last attempt to roll Mr McCormack (pictured) in February 2020 ended in failure
Mr Joyce has downplayed the prospects of challenging for the Nationals leadership, but has not ruled out running for the leadership if a spill is called but has said he does not think that is likely
On the policy front, some colleagues consider Mr McCormack as weak in pushing back against stronger climate action and a failure in claiming credit for infrastructure spending.
But the leadership rumblings appear far more personality-based.
Nationals frontbencher Darren Chester, a staunch supporter of Mr McCormack, said country voters were sick of the ‘bulldust’ around leadership tensions.
‘I’ve read the speculation and I’ve heard the speculation. I don’t think there’s even going to be a spill motion today and nor should there be,’ he told the ABC.
‘Michael McCormack is doing a very good job for our country, for regional Australia, in difficult circumstances.’
Mr Chester accused rebellious Nationals colleagues of ‘mischief-making’ by fuelling the speculation.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison threw his support behind Mr McCormack during a radio interview on Monday.