‘If it was offered to me I’d take it’
AGITATION to dump Deputy PM Michael McCormack for Barnaby Joyce is building, with suggestions the Nationals leader's fate could hang on the outcome of Saturday's Wentworth by-election.
The Courier-Mail can reveal support for Mr McCormack, even among core allies, has fallen away. Mr Joyce yesterday said he would accept the top job if it was offered, but that he was not doing the numbers, while Mr McCormack said he was providing stable leadership.
As senior Nationals were publicly backing their leader, others questioned Mr McCormack's ability after his bizarre Question Time antics on Tuesday when he took shots at his own side for backgrounding journalists.
Former staunch supporters such as Nationals MPs Keith Pitt and Luke Hartsuyker, are said to be dissatisfied with their leader's performance. Deputy leader Bridget McKenzie and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud are understood to be strongly against any move with expectation Mr Littleproud would vie for the leadership if it became vacant after the federal election.
Mr Joyce's supporters have not ruled out a spill next week, with the majority of Nationals due to be in Canberra for Senate Estimates.
Others say there is not enough support for a spill, with fears that any destabilisation would further hurt the Coalition's election chances.
Barnaby backers say he was ousted in February not because of the love child scandal, but allegations levelled by Catherine Marriott, which have since been found to have insufficient evidence.
"We're just focused on Wentworth, if we have a good result there we'll be happy, if not …" one source said.
Resources Minister Matt Canavan said that his colleagues backed Mr McCormack as leader.
"We can't get through a sitting week without some speculation over leadership, it's the Nationals turn this week. We'll ride through it," he said.
If it goes ahead it will be the third leadership change in the Coalition this year. Asked about the leadership yesterday, Mr Joyce did not deny his interest.
"If it was offered to me I'd take it, but I'm not counting for it and I'm not calculating the numbers for it," he told Sky News.
Mr McCormack said he would continue to work with Mr Joyce and his colleagues to stick up for regional Australia.
"Regional Australians want secure and stable leadership which listens to their specific needs, understands their unique differences and delivers for them - that's what The Nationals stand for and that's what my leadership is providing," he said.
On Tuesday Mr McCormack said on Tuesday that allegations he was ineffective were "cancer" and made pointed comments that he always put his name to a story.