'Killing season' unlikely to claim a new victim as the push to reinstate Barnaby Joyce stalls
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'Killing season' unlikely to claim a new victim as the push to reinstate Barnaby Joyce stalls

The push to reinstate Barnaby Joyce as deputy prime minister has stalled in the wake of the Victorian election disaster and private pleas for Coalition unity.

MPs were last month bracing for a leadership change over fears the Nationals are on course for a wipeout in Queensland at next year's federal election under current leader Michael McCormack.

Mr Joyce, who resigned in disgrace in February after former staffer Vikki Campion became pregnant with his child, wants to reclaim the top job but has denied making calls for support.

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce says he supports Nationals leader Michael McCormack.

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce says he supports Nationals leader Michael McCormack. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

His Queensland-based backers remain convinced they have enough support to challenge Mr McCormack or ask him to stand down, however momentum appears to have slowed just as MPs return to Canberra for the final sitting fortnight of the year - a window often referred to as the 'killing season'.

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Asked on Monday whether Mr McCormack was the best person to lead the Nationals to the federal election, Mr Joyce said: "Michael is doing a great job and I am supporting him."

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Pressed whether Mr McCormack was the best person for the job, Mr Joyce replied: "Michael is the best person, he is elected for the job. I will be supporting Michael."

Mr Joyce said the Nationals vote in Victoria on Saturday had held up well, however two Nationals-held electorates could still fall to independents.

Nationals MPs contacted by Fairfax Media doubted the leadership would change this fortnight but said the final two weeks of a parliamentary year were always a dangerous time for any leader under pressure.

Some of Mr McCormack's own supporters believe the Deputy Prime Minister could command just eight votes out of the 22-member party room if a spill was called.

A switch back to Mr Joyce would guarantee his return to cabinet and trigger a wider frontbench reshuffle.

Some Coalition figures fear a revival of Mr Joyce would destroy the regional party's female vote given his recent personal history. They also believe Mr McCormack has not been given enough time to connect with voters.

However Mr Joyce's supporters believe Mr McCormack will struggle to appeal to conservative Queensland voters. More significantly though, they believe he has not stood up to the Liberal Party during key policy negotiations.

Former Nationals leaders last month warned Mr Joyce to abandon the push to reinstate him as Nationals leader, urging federal MPs to "save the ship" by rejecting the leadership turmoil that has taken hold in Canberra.

Tim Fischer and John Anderson, who served as deputy prime ministers under John Howard, told Fairfax Media the party had to stop disputes over the leadership and help fix a "trust deficit" with voters that was fracturing Australian politics.

"There is a federal election coming and the last thing the Australian people want is any confirmation that white-anting has taken a permanent place in the Australian political landscape," Mr Anderson said.

Bevan Shields is the federal editor and Canberra bureau chief for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra

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