Michael McCormack has taken the reins of the federal Nationals after the party’s troubles made it look like a runaway horse. But can he rein it back in?
A Wagga Wagga-born, farm-raised journalist, McCormack has a hard race ahead of him, with an empty page to fill, as few know much about him.
His posting won’t be without its challenges. The fact George Christensen stood against him, going against a party room tradition not to contest the leadership ballot, was not a good sign for unity. And then he faces the ever present Barnaby bubble. Although he has no reason to attack McCormack, it looks like Joyce may be another Tony Abbott, unable to hold back.
Even after his fall from grace this week, Barnaby held an impromptu press conference after a touch football game outside Parliament, refusing to rule out a comeback. He says he doesn’t rule things out or he may just get embarrassed later. “I’m talking too fast aren’t I?” he said. McCormack hopes he might stop talking full stop, as he needs some clear air to assert his credentials.
McCormack has promised an inclusive leadership. Whether he is leadership material is yet an unknown. His mentor, former Riverina MP Kay Hull, says he has what it takes. As a former country editor, he has had to move between the powerless and the powerful. It’s given him a broad knowledge of life, which hopefully he can use to command what is a diverse party.
Joyce earned the tag as maverick early in his career, crossing the floor 20 times in parliament before assuming the leadership. There’s no doubt he has great political nous. Despite what people say about him, his presence resonates in the community, even among city folk. Often pilloried by comedians, he still commanded a presence - and he romped in his by-election in the New England.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was at his wits ends with Barnaby’s dilemmas. There he was in the New England after the by-election win holding up Barnaby’s jubilant hand. It now seems unlikely Joyce would ever come back as leader while Turnbull is Prime Minister.
No one can knock Joyce’s commitment to rural Australia. He even took on the Canberra mandarins to move the APVMA to Armidale. It’s a pity his personal life ruined his career, but now it’s time for McCormack to assert himself, create some character in his profile, and get the Nats back on track.