McCormack claims 'majority support' in Nationals party room

Michael McCormack says none of his colleagues have approached him with complaints over his leadership.

Nationals leader Michael McCormack has dismissed any push for leadership change as being confined to one or two anonymous party room members.

Mr McCormack fronted the media on Thursday after the leader he replaced, Barnaby Joyce, said he would take over the top job if it was “offered” to him.

“Barnaby Joyce has said that he's not canvassing it and I believe him ... The fact is I have the majority support in the National Party and the fact is I have to say not one National Party member has come to me and said that they're dissatisfied with anything,” Mr McCormack said.

“As these stories have arisen, particularly in the last 24 hours, the number of colleagues who have texted me, who phoned me, who visited my office and said, ‘look, you're doing a great job, just continue what you're doing’.”

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce (left) and Michael McCormack.
Source: AAP

After addressing a national farmers' conference in Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked whether he would welcome back Mr Joyce as Deputy Prime Minister.

“They are matters for the National Party. What I do know is that the coalition between the Nationals and the Liberals has never been stronger.”

Mr Morrison said Mr McCormack was doing a “fantastic job.”

Earlier, former Nationals leader Mr Joyce said he was not canvassing for votes but would not turn down the role if it was offered by his colleagues.

“I’ve always said that if anything was offered to me I’d take it. If it came up and if it was offered to me I’d take it but I’m not touting for it,” Mr Joyce told Sky News.

Backbencher Michelle Landry told Sky News a Barnaby Joyce comeback is inevitable.

“I am sure that at some stage in his career, Barnaby will be leader again. Michael is our leader now, he has the support of the party room,” she said.

Scott Morrison in the House of Representatives on Thursday.
Source: AAP

While the opposition's manager of parliamentary business, Tony Burke, has seized on the speculation.

“The Liberals have proven that they can't deliver stability, the Nats are proving that they can't. I mean, it used to be the case that the National party, their whole image was meant to be that they'd be stable, they'd be reliable. They've just decided to throw that out the window,” Mr Burke said.

Agricultural visas

Earlier in the week, Mr McCormack was pressed in Question Time over damaging reports that a key Nationals stakeholder was “ringing around” because they did not think Mr McCormack was cutting through in his advocacy for a special agricultural visa.    

The Nationals leader responded by slamming politicians who backgrounded to journalists.

“I will never, ever background a journalist, and I think there is a cancer in Canberra at the moment, and it’s people who background journalists,” Mr McCormack told the parliament.

Mr McCormack said he had “absolutely” pushed the Liberal leadership on the visas.

Lobby groups like the Farmers’ Federation want a new agricultural visa to bring more seasonal foreign workers to Australia, alongside the existing schemes that bring workers from Pacific Island nations and backpackers from other countries.

The Nationals have repeatedly promised the visa, but the Morrison government has not made any announcement.

Beyond the deputy leader Bridget McKenzie, one of the Nationals’ most senior members is David Littleproud, who holds the key ministries of agriculture and water.

Mr Littleproud said there was “no chance” of a leadership spill and said he was “not interested”, even if there was.

Published 18 October 2018 at 8:11am, updated 18 October 2018 at 3:33pm
By James Elton-Pym, Gareth Boreham