Nationals elect new leader amid continuing divisions

UPDATED | Veterans Affairs Minister Michael McCormack has been elected the new federal Nationals leader, seeing out a last-minute challenge from Queenslander George Christensen.

Feb 26, 2018, updated Feb 26, 2018
New National Party leader and deputy prime minister Michael McCormack. Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch

New National Party leader and deputy prime minister Michael McCormack. Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch

Party members and senators had gathered for a special party meeting at 8am in Parliament House to see former leader Barnaby Joyce formally stand down after weeks of fall out surrounding his marriage break-up and relationship with a former staffer who is now pregnant.

“I want to make sure that people know that in me they will have a fighter. I have a huge challenge ahead of me,” McCormack said after the vote.

He acknowledged the outstanding leadership of Joyce and insisted his legacy would endure.

NSW MP David Gillespie and agriculture minister and Joyce supporter David Littleproud earlier withdrew from a leadership contest.

But in a surprise move, Christensen put up his hand, although his bid was unsuccessful.

“George has been a friend of mine and will continue to be so,” McCormack said.

In a later statement, Christensen congratulated his colleague and said he looked forward to working with him.

“I expressed my views on the need to change the current political direction the Nationals are moving in, in a Facebook post over the weekend. My colleagues did not agree with my views, and that’s democracy,” he said, referring to his push to end the formal coalition.

Earlier, Victorian MP Andrew Broad likened McCormack to former leader Warren Truss.

“Michael is going to be a good guy. I think he will be a very solid performer, but it’s the team that wins elections,” he told ABC radio on Monday.

McCormack has previously been criticised for penning a 1993 column describing homosexuality as “sordid behaviour”. He has since apologised.

Broad doesn’t believe McCormack still holds those views.

“I think Michael has become a very savvy parliamentarian and we’ve all said silly things in our past,” he said.

Nationals backbencher Darren Chester said McCormack, whose name is relatively unknown amongst the broader Australian public, should not be underestimated.

“People will like Michael McCormack when they get to know him. He is a hell of a nice fellow but he’s also a determined guy,” the Victorian told ABC TV.

“They wouldn’t want to underestimate him. He fights hard for his community.”

McCormack will today visit Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to discuss the Coalition agreement between the Nationals and Liberal parties.

However, the ructions within the Coalition over Joyce’s departure continue, with Nationals MP Broad suggesting the Liberal Party leaked the details of a woman accusing Joyce of sexual harassment.

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The Victorian MP says the Nationals were not behind the release of the name of the West Australian woman, who some media have chosen to name.

“I’ve made some investigation of my own and I believe the due processes of the National Party have held, have been very thorough and the leaks have not come from the National Party,” he told ABC TV on Sunday night.

“I know of a Liberal MP who had access to that letter when we had not seen it.”

When asked if he was blaming the Liberals for the leak, Broad said: “I’m just saying that I was aware that a Liberal MP has access to it”.

He declined to name the MP in question.

Cabinet minister Mathias Cormann, who was acting prime minister last week, said he was not aware how the allegations became public.

“I certainly was not aware of the complaint and I don’t believe that anybody else in the Liberal Party was aware of the specifics of the complaint that was made,” he told ABC radio.

Asked whether someone in the Liberal Party was behind the release of details, Cormann said: “I don’t believe so”.

The woman broke her silence on Saturday and said she never intended the explosive allegations – denied by Joyce – to go public.

She had asked the party to undertake a formal and confidential investigation to ensure there was accountability.

“This complaint was not made solely to address the incident against me – it is about speaking up against inappropriate behaviour by people in powerful positions,” she said in a statement.

Joyce called the allegations “spurious and defamatory” when he flagged his resignation as party leader and deputy prime minister on Friday.

more to come

with AAP

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