/ 21 June 2021

It’s a Nationals’ leadership hoedown

You know what federal politics has been lacking during this term of government? A leadership challenge… Thankfully, the Nationals look to be stepping up to the plate with Deputy PM Michael McCormack again facing pressure from his predecessor Barnaby Joyce. And speculation mounted over the weekend that it could all blow up at a party room meeting this morning.

Tensions within the junior Coalition partner have simmered since McCormack took the reins in 2018. You’ll remember that happened when Joyce resigned as Deputy PM in February 2018 after his private life exploded all over the media and former PM Malcolm Turnbull’s sense of propriety. Joyce unsuccessfully challenged McCormack early last year, but the potshots have continued with some calling the leader’s performances “an embarrassment”. And look, he is known for his verbal flourishes like last week’s effort when he said he would “much sooner live in Australia than anywhere else in the nation”… His critics also say he rolls over too easily with the Liberals (aka the Nationals’ coalition partner) on policy issues, like climate change. But his supporters say that he’s stabilised the party after a period of Joyce-inspired turmoil and done a lot for the people of regional Australia.

Shrugging lady emoji… Since the Financial Review revealed on Saturday (paywall) that it could be on like Donkey Kong, a bit has been said about whether Joyce has the 11 votes he needs in the 21-strong party room to win. And even if a challenge is mounted this morning and McCormack stands aside, it might not go all Joyce’s way with Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said to be keen to be considered for the top job. For his part, McCormack has brushed it off, saying not one of his colleagues has told him “it’s on” – and if it is, “they’ll have to blow me out,” he says. At least history is on McCormack’s side with hostile leadership takeovers in the Nats a rarity. The last time it happened was 1989 when Charles Blunt defeated Ian Sinclair. Just nod and pretend you remember…

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