Riverina MP Michael McCormack was elected to replace Barnaby Joyce as Nationals leader this morning.
He also becomes Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and has taken on Darren Chester’s old ministerial portfolio of Infrastructure and Transport.
McCormack, 53, from Wagga Wagga in the NSW Riverina irrigation region, was elected over maverick Queensland MP George Christensen, who broke with Nationals convention in leadership contests for the new leader to be elected unopposed. It’s not known how many of the 21 parliamentary Nationals voted for Christensen.
NSW MP David Gillespie withdrew his candidacy on Sunday afternoon.
McCormack is the current Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, having held the jobs since December last year. Prior to the Small Business Minister for 18 months, having first been elected to Parliament in 2010.
The Catholic-educated MP and married father of three, who grew up on farm in the region, and went on to become editor of the local daily paper, The Daily Advertiser, in 1991, aged 27.
During his tenure, he wrote a 1993 editorial about “homosexuals and their sordid behaviour” adding that “if the disease their unnatural acts helped spread doesn’t wipe out humanity, they’re here to stay”.
He apologised for those views in a subsequent editorial and has issued repeated apologies since, saying he had learnt to “accept all people regardless of their sexual orientation”. He voted in favour of same-sex marriage in last year’s parliamentary vote honouring a commitment to vote with his electorate, but personally opposed the policy.
McCormack became Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, Mathias Cormann, after the Abbott government’s election in 2013, and two years later, was appointed Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister, who was then Warren Truss. He spent six months as Assistant Minister for Defence before taking on the Small Business portfolio following the 2016 election
He stood twice as Nationals deputy leader under former leader Barnaby Joyce, in 2016 and 2017, but missed out by one vote both times, first to former senator Fiona Nash, who like Joyce, was forced to resign because she was a dual citzen, and in December last year, to her replacement, Bridget McKenzie.
McCormack has been married for 22 years and is the father of three children.
George Christensen’s candidacy was a surprise among the party’s 16 lower house MPs. On the weekend, the controversial Queenslander called the Nationals to break away from the Liberals and end its agreement with the Coalition.
Christensen, who last year threatened to leave the Nationals, only to break his pledge, took to Facebook on the weekend to say he’d rather see Liberals in all the key positions of government “than have to compromise our values and the welfare of the good people we represent”.
The outspoken Queenslander recently sparked complaints and a police investigation after posting a photo of himself holding a handgun, with the caption “You gotta ask yourself, do you feel lucky, greenie punks?”, just days after 17 people, including students, had been shot dead in a US school. He refused to apologise, saying it was a joke.
Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce announced his intention to step down on Friday, following a week of personal leave, describing a sexual harassment complaint from a prominent Western Australian woman in agriculture as the final straw “that broke the camel’s back”. He called the allegations, made to the Nationals and to be investigated by the party, as spurious and defamatory, and asked for it to be referred to the police.
Joyce will remain an MP and moves to the backbench. The father of four, who is estranged from his wife and now living with his new partner, his former media advisor, is due to have a baby in April.
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