Federal Politics

Michael McCormack signals challenge to Barnaby Joyce for Nats leadership

Nationals MP Michael McCormack has given his clearest signal yet he will challenge Barnaby Joyce for the party leadership when Warren Truss announces his retirement.

The Deputy Prime Minister had been widely expected to announce his retirement over summer, but has defied expectations and is remaining tight-lipped about his plans.

Some see Michael McCormack as the rightful successor to Warren Truss, after all, he's not Barnaby.
Some see Michael McCormack as the rightful successor to Warren Truss, after all, he's not Barnaby. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

As a result, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's reshuffle of his front bench – prompted by the resignation of junior minister Jamie Briggs and Special Minister of State Mal Brough stepping aside, at least temporarily – is effectively on hold.

Nationals MPs are due to meet for the first time in 2016 at a party room meeting on Monday afternoon, and there is a growing expectation that Mr Truss will hold off on an announcement until mid-March, when parliament rises.

Michael McCormack at Federal Parliament.
Michael McCormack at Federal Parliament. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Mr McCormack told Fairfax Media on Sunday that Mr Truss wanted the democratic process to take its course when he does eventually retire, and for "all 21 members of the party room to have their say, without any pressure from the leader".

Asked if he would challenge Mr Joyce, who is seen as the frontrunner for the job, Mr McCormack said: " At some point in time Warren will call it a day and at that time I will weigh it up".

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"I would be humbled to have my photo in the Nationals party room alongside the 12 other leaders we have had," he said, adding that, " I've not been canvassing numbers or counting numbers, or seeking views from people".

" There is no ballot at the the moment, there is no point in declaring anything."

Nationals MP Mark Coulton said people speculating about Mr Truss's future should "take 10 ten deep breaths and a cold ...
Nationals MP Mark Coulton said people speculating about Mr Truss's future should "take 10 ten deep breaths and a cold shower". Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Supporters of Mr Joyce insist he would have the numbers if a contest eventuates, and highlight his experience in the parliament and Cabinet, his considerable ability as a retail politician and the fact that he would offer a sharper contrast between the Nationals and the Liberals within the Coalition.

But some in the party room claim that an "anyone but Barnaby" candidate would win at least eight of the 21 votes, and possibly a majority.

They also claim that Mr Truss is in the "anyone but Barnaby" camp, though the current leader has publicly praised Mr Joyce's efforts as his deputy.

Fellow Nationals MP Mark Coulton said people speculating about Mr Truss's future should "take 10 deep breaths and a cold shower".

"Warren has made no comment as to what he might be doing," he said. I believe that a man with his record should be given the dignity of choosing the time when he wants to retire, whenever that may be. Until that time comes, I am very happy to have him as my leader."

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