McCormack retains Nationals leadership
SPECULATION has already begun that there will be a second challenge to National Party leader Michael McCormack after Barnaby Joyce failed in his bid today to return to the top job.
Mr McCormack successfully fended off a challenge from Mr Joyce today, emerging victorious from a leadership spill just after 9.30am.
Mr McCormack said he was looking forward to continuing to working with Mr Joyce and said he didn't expect another challenge.
"We've had way too much speculation about the leadership role, and it's time to put that to bed," he said.
"The fact is, I've shook hands with Barnaby, we're going to move on and we're going to work hard together. He and I, and the rest of the Nationals team, for regional Australians.
"I don't expect him to challenge again. I've been endorsed as the leader. I was endorsed last year. I was endorsed when he stood down. That's three times."
However, there is speculation over how close the vote was and whether another challenge is a possibility.
National Party votes are never revealed and only the Whip knows the result.
The party whip not revealing the result... and that does not bode well. Only 21 in the party-room .. if 11-10 ... guaranteed @Barnaby_Joyce will have another crack.— Sabra Lane (@SabraLane) February 3, 2020
However, sources have briefed Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell and The Australian columnist Peter van Onselen that the vote was 11-10, even though it was a secret ballot so it's unclear how credible that number is.
If the result was that close, commentators believe Mr Barnaby will definitely challenge again. Van Onselen tweeted that one Nationals MP said Mr McCormack "won't survive the week".
Mr McCormack also congratulated David Littleproud on being elected the new deputy leader, to replace Bridget McKenzie.
"We will continue as a united team to put the people of regional Australia first and foremost.
I want to thank my colleagues for again placing their faith in me.
"I think now we need to draw a line in the sand and focus on the fire victims.
"There've been many who lost their businesses, lost their homes, lost their farms."
While The Daily Telegraph reports there is strong support for Mr Joyce, others believe Mr McCormack will hang on.
Nationals frontbencher Darren Chester, who backs Mr McCormack as leader, told ABC he believed Mr McCormack had the numbers.
Mr Chester said he was "frustrated, disappointed and embarrassed" by the spill. "We were elected to fight for regional Australia, not to come to Canberra and fight with our 'mates'."
Meanwhile, Mr McCormack has warned colleagues against "tearing down" the Nationals ahead of the leadership challenge.
"There's a time to tear down and there's a time to build. Now is a time to build," Mr McCormack told reporters outside a church service.
Ahead of the leadership contest, Mr McCormack said he was praying for regional Australians.
"They're the people I was thinking of yesterday when others might have been doing numbers," he said.
"And that's what I will continue to do, serve and work for them, for and on their behalf."
Mr Joyce, the party's former leader, said Mr McCormack had failed to deliver for regional Australians.
He has promised to muscle up to Prime Minister Scott Morrison if he wins the party room ballot.
"Mr Morrison might talk about the quiet Australians but for us they are the near invisible Australians," he said.
"We have to make sure we are their champion and we go in to fight for them."
Mr Joyce pointed out he had been in politics longer than the prime minister.
"Remember, I've been in politics longer than Scott Morrison, and I've been in leadership longer than Scott Morrison," he said.
"I know how to deal at the highest level. I've been at the table, and for our team, for the Nationals team, if I'm given the opportunity, the great honour to do that again, I will."
Mr Morrison tried not to buy into the unrest, claiming he could work with either Nationals leadership contender.
"The coalition will always be strong, and the leaders of the parties have always worked closely together for the good of the country," he told reporters.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese described the Nationals infighting as "totally self-indulgent".
Matt Canavan resigned from the ministry on Monday evening to endorse Mr Joyce.
"We need a bulldog, we need a fighter," he told reporters in Canberra.
The Nationals party room will meet in Canberra today where federal backbench MP Llew O'Brien will call for a leadership spill, opening up Mr McCormack's job.
Mr O'Brien's spill motion will need to be seconded to trigger a vote on Mr McCormack's leadership.
The party must also choose a new deputy leader to replace dumped minister Bridget McKenzie, with Queensland frontbencher David Littleproud the favourite.
BARNABY GRILLED AS SPILL LOOMS
Barnaby Joyce has been grilled as he aims to get his old job as Deputy Prime Minister back.
The Nationals partyroom will meet in Canberra where federal backbench MP Llew O'Brien will call for a leadership spill, opening up Michael McCormack's job.
Mr Joyce, the party's former leader, told Mr McCormack on Monday afternoon he would have a tilt at the role.
Speaking on Today this morning, Mr Joyce said it was time for a change.
"We are two years out from the next election. We have had two years with Michael. We respect the job Michael has done but if there is a time to consider where we are going and how we get there, then it is today," he said.
But Mr Joyce was grilled by Today host Allison Langdon about what he had learnt since moving to the backbench.
"You said you have spent the past two years reflecting on your faults. What are they and what have you learnt?" Langdon asked.
"Of course, I have got to make sure that we have a strong team. It is not about Barnaby. It is about the team. It is about making sure..."
But Langdon cut Joyce off, asking again: "No, no, but you talked about yourself personally reflect ongoing your faults. I'm asking you what are those faults and what have you learnt?"
Mr Joyce said sometimes he was too "enthusiastic".
"I'm enthusiastic and sometimes enthusiastic comes too enthusiastic and leaves people behind. You have to take down a cog. You have to make sure first and foremost you are listening to other people and hearing what their concerns are," he replied.
"Look, I have paid a heavy price and I have had two years to reflect on that and I'm not going to waste those two years. I'm going take that reflection and try and make myself a better man, which we all do.
"We all make mistakes and I think Australia is the place where, if you make a mistake, they will back you in again as long as you show that you have basically taken your medicine."
Langdon then asked: "Barnaby, the problem is your colleagues now need make a decision. A huge call. What they have got right now is useless. But are you worth taking a huge risk for. What if you lose the plot again?"
But Mr Joyce said he had a "very good structure" around him now.
"Of course (partner) Vikki (Campion) is down here with the boys as we speak. I also lean on people around me to make sure that I have got that support structure and I have got good friends who clearly understand that you have got to temper enthusiasm with the capacity to
keep people on board in your business dealings and in your personal life."
LIBERALS WILL WORK WITH NEW LEADER
Federal Environment Minister and Liberal MP Sussan Ley said the party would be able to work with whoever their coalition party appoints.
"This has nothing to do with the Liberal party," Ms Ley told Nine on Tuesday.
"We're ready to work with whoever's successful.
"We will continue to work together as a government."
Mr Joyce has the support of backbencher Matt Canavan, who resigned from the ministry on Monday evening.
"We need a bulldog, we need a fighter," he told reporters in Canberra. "I think Barnaby has proven himself as a stayer."
The Queenslander wouldn't say if he thinks Mr Joyce has the numbers to win.
"I have not lobbied other members ... I have no idea about the overall make up of the result tomorrow."
Mr McCormack had earlier dismissed speculation his job was at risk and was confident he would continue as leader.
Nationals chief whip Damian Drum said Tuesday's spill motion would need to be seconded to trigger a vote on Mr McCormack's leadership.
"Barnaby would realise that, in my opinion, he doesn't have the numbers," he told the ABC.
"There's not much point in challenging if you don't have the numbers."
But Mr Drum admitted Mr Joyce had made no secret of his ambitions to return to the leadership.
"At the moment, Michael is the leader. Michael is doing a ripping job and he has fantastic support within the room," the Victorian MP said.
Nationals frontbencher Darren Chester, who is in line for a return to cabinet, also threw his support behind Mr McCormack.
The party must also choose a new deputy leader to replace Bridget McKenzie. Queensland frontbencher David Littleproud is the frontrunner. NSW backbencher David Gillespie is the only confirmed candidate but has struggled to get the support of colleagues in the past.
Mr Littleproud, who has the water, drought and emergency management portfolios, is the Nationals' most senior cabinet minister aside from Mr McCormack.