It was more a push than a out and out putsch but whatever it was called, the frenetic activity inside the Nationals that aimed to dislodge Barnaby Joyce this week has fizzled.
For now at least.
After enduring the most uncomfortable few days of his political career, the Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister stared down those inside his party calling for him to go over the shame caused by his extramarital affair with now-former staffer Vikki Campion.
The overriding reason was that a majority of Nationals know that Mr Joyce, when unblemished by scandal, is their best political asset.
Party president Larry Anthony, who flew to Canberra on Tuesday night, made this very appeal to MPs.
“You are never wise to make decisions in the heat of the moment. Barnaby should be given time,” he said.
Mr Joyce issued the same appeal to those who visited him individually to gauge his frame of mind, including close friend and fellow Minister Matt Canavan and Queensland senator Barry O’Sullivan, who was coordinating both sides of the argument through his office.
Mr Joyce asked that he be given time to recover.
Not that the Nationals, even those who really want him to go, planned to dump him per se.
“We’ve only dumped one leader in 94 years,” said one MP, a reference to the ousting of Ian Sinclair in 1989.
“We don’t know how to do this stuff.”
As events came to a head Tuesday night, and wild rumours flew about a delegation of MPs preparing to tap Mr Joyce, it was far less organised than it appeared.
No numbers were counted, nothing was very organised, there was no delegation in the end.
It was more just a push designed to persuade Mr Joyce to step aside from the leadership with dignity.
“It wasn’t a revolt, it was a surge designed to bring it on in the belief we couldn’t keep bleeding like this. People were trying to get him to see common sense,” said an MP.
“Several people spoke to Barnaby. He pleaded for more time.”
Uneasy calm returns
By Wednesday, an uneasy clam had returned to the junior Coalition partner.
But should fresh allegations emerge, or voter hostility, especially that being expressed by women, fail to abate, then the issue will be revisited and it will not be so disorganised.
“If it blows again, it will be more clinical next time,” said a party source.
In the meantime, Mr Joyce could actually start eliciting sympathy from his colleagues. One said that during informal discussions Tuesday night, “people were asking ‘what’s the crime?’.”
He said the more the media, Labor and other third parties bayed for Mr Joyce’s head, the more galvanised the Nationals would become behind their leader.
“Every time the (Daily) Telegraph runs a bad story, painting him as a sexual predator, people just dig in,” he said.
The source, who supports Mr Joyce, said those eager to oust him numbered no more than five or six of the party’s 21 MPs and Senators.
A handful of Nationals MPs publicly defended their leader on Wednesday along such lines.
“Aussies HATE pollies talking about themselves. Yet some MPs are talking about ousting Nats leader after week of bad news, doing more damage to Nats & govt than anything else,” tweeted renegade George Christensen.
“More Libs in on it than Nats. Barnaby stuffed up. He apologised. Move on. There’s real issues to discuss.”
Deputy leader Bridget McKenzie, who went to ground after the scandal erupted, broke her silence yesterday, describing Mr Joyce’s behaviour as “very human”.
“There’s an unease for all of us looking at this as a woman,” she said.
“But we also have to recognise these things happen.”
She said adultery was not affecting Mr Joyce’s capacity to deliver politically.
“These things happen in every family, in every town, in every workplace,” she said.
New Cabinet minister David Littleproud, the rookie MP who was controversially promoted from the backbench in last year’s ministerial reshuffle, threw his support behind the boss while backbencher Michelle Landry, who holds the very marginal Queensland seat of Capricornia, said Mr Joyce “a bit of personal time to sort this out”.
“As far as I’m concerned everything is above board with the offices and he’s there to stay,” she told reporters.
“I believe that Barnaby will remain our leader – I think we need to give him a fair go with it.”
This article was originally published by the Australia Financial Review. Read the original here, or follow the AFR on Facebook.
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