The top levels of the Coalition expect Michael McCormack will make way for his deputy David Littleproud to take over the Nationals leadership in an orderly transition of power. Leading Nationals and Liberals now believe the Deputy Prime Minister must step down ahead of the next election to ensure the survival of the country party and maintain stability inside the Coalition.
Source: Dennis Shanahan and Geoff Chambers, News Corp
Coalition leaders expect Michael McCormack to stand aside
The Weekend Australian understands a change in Nationals leadership — following Barnaby Joyce’s failed move against Mr McCormack — would see Mr Joyce not challenge for the top job and instead work as a minister in Mr Littleproud’s team.
While no formal agreement or timetable is in place for the proposed transition, Coalition leaders have concluded a clean change is required after talks in Canberra.
Following the collapse in support for Mr McCormack’s leadership, Scott Morrison was forced to seek backing for the government from rogue Nationals MPs and respond to concerns in Liberal ranks that the budget agenda could be derailed.
Senior Nationals and Liberal sources told The Weekend Australian the best way to ensure stability for the Coalition and within the Nationals was for Mr McCormack to work on a transition of leadership beyond him and Mr Joyce.
Mr McCormack told The Weekend Australian: “I intend leading the party to the next election.”
But he also said: “The leadership is the gift of the Nationals partyroom. A week is a long time in politics.”
Keeping a longstanding commitment, Mr McCormack travelled to Llew O’Brien’s Queensland electorate of Wide Bay on Friday to open the revamped Sunshine Beach surf club, which received a $2.5m grant two months before last year’s May 18 election. Mr O’Brien, who moved a spill motion against Mr McCormack in support of Mr Joyce, quit the Nationals on Monday. The government suffered a rare defeat on the floor of parliament after Mr O’Brien teamed with Labor, the crossbench and rogue Coalition MPs to win the Deputy Speaker’s job ahead of Mr McCormack’s pick Damian Drum.
Standing alongside Mr McCormack on Friday, Mr O’Brien said voters in Wide Bay had backed him as a Liberal National Party candidate. “That’s what they bought, that’s what they got, that’s what they’ve still got. I’m a proud member of the Coalition government,” he said.
As Nationals MPs duelled publicly and baited Liberals over coal-fired power stations during the first parliamentary sitting fortnight of the year, Nationals party president Larry Anthony and former Nationals leader and deputy prime minister John Anderson held private talks and made public appeals for peace and calm.
Across two weeks of turmoil for the Nationals, two cabinet ministers resigned, Mr McCormack narrowly fended off a challenge from Mr Joyce and Mr O’Brien resigned to sit as an LNP MP inside the joint partyroom.
The Prime Minsiter was dragged into the dispute when warned by Mr Joyce that rebel Nationals MPs may cross the floor to defeat government legislation.
A senior Nationals source said that if no orderly transition was put in place, MPs would maintain their destabilisation campaign against Mr McCormack. “It won’t stop. The past two weeks have damaged both Michael and Barnaby. There is now a feeling that a compromise leader is needed possibly sooner rather than later,” the source said.
With Mr Morrison and Josh Frydenberg responding to budget pressures sparked by the coronavirus and bushfire recovery, senior government figures want an end to the brawling. Concerns have also been raised about the potential for the internal warring to spill into Liberal ranks after moderates complained they had been told not to antagonise Nationals MPs over climate change and energy.
Despite rebel Nationals publicly declaring their “support” for Mr McCormack, most consider his leadership to be “terminal” after he rewarded colleagues who voted for him and shut out rivals.
A plan by McCormack supporters to entrench his leadership by requiring two-thirds of the Nationals partyroom to back a spill was shelved within hours after backlash from Joyce backers.