By Jeremy Sollars
Local federal Maranoa MP and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has ruled himself out of any Nationals leadership spill, with speculation mounting that current Natonals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack could be ousted within days.
Canberra is bracing itself for the unthinkable – a second Coalition leadership spill in as many months – with many convinced former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce will make a leadership comeback, although Mr Joyce has strenuously denied he is “counting the numbers”.
Warwick-based Mr Littleproud – himself widely seen as a future Nationals leader – told national media last night, Wednesday 17 October, that he would not be running in any leadership spill and along with other prominent Nationals figures has denied a push is on against Mr McCormack to restore Mr Joyce.
Mr Littleproud is a close personal friend of Mr Joyce and has in the past been a key backer of the controversial politician, who resigned as Nationals leader and Deputy PM in February after splitting up with wife Natalie and fathering a child with former staffer Vicki Campion.
The internal unrest inside the Nationals party room has infuriated the Liberal Party, which is fighting to retain its one-seat majority at Saturday’s crucial by-election in the Sydney seat of Wentworth, vacated by former PM Malcolm Turnbull.
One unnamed Liberal minister reportedly – and perhaps somewhat hypocritically – told Canberra reporters the Nationals had “lost their minds”.
Mr McCormack told national media today, Thursday 18 October, that he has the “absolute support” of Nationals MPs.
“The National Party is right behind me,” Mr McCormack was quoted as saying.
“No National Party MP has come to me and said, ‘I’m dissatisfied with the job that you’re doing.’
“They have come to me and offered me solid support.”
Many Nationals MPs are understood to be of the view that Mr McCormack has failed to resonate with voters since becoming leader in February and is still largely unknown, but some have contended he should be given more of a chance to prove himself.
Some are also understood to be fearful that a return of Mr Joyce as Nationals leader could alienate female voters in key metro and regional electorates.
If a spill against Mr McCormack is on it is likely to happen next week – Parliament rises next Thursday – but it could happen sooner.
Mr Joyce yesterday acknowledged he wanted the Nationals leadership but only on the condition he was “drafted” into it.
“It is faux modesty to say if you’re offered a job, you’d turn it down. That is garbage,” Mr Joyce told the media.
“If it was offered to me I’d take it, but I’m not touting for it, I’m not collecting the numbers.”
Mr Joyce said he had “not made one call to one colleague” canvassing votes.
“There’s been no secret meetings in my room, there’s no WhatsApp group, there’s no dinner conversations going away to a restaurant,” he said.
A leadership change back to Mr Joyce would guarantee his return to cabinet and trigger a wider frontbench reshuffle just two months after Scott Morrison’s new-look ministry was sworn in.