After bids failed from the similarly renowned David Littleproud and David Gillespie, the field to leadership of the Nationals fell to Minister for Veterans Affairs Michael McCormack (technically he beat out a last minute run by George Christensen, but … come on …). A recurring gag is that, out of a line-up of one, McCormack is still impossible to pick out.
Growing up in Wagga Wagga, regional New South Wales and raised on various family farms, McCormack started out in the media; getting a cadetship at the local rag, the Daily Advertiser and rising all the way to editor within three years. Indeed, the MEAA have noted this may well be the first time that both the Prime Minister and deputy PM are former members of their organisation. In this capacity, he achieved his one claim to genuine notoriety, and let’s face it, it’s not a good one.
It is unlikely for the foreseeable future, that McCormack will go a day without having to address a vile editorial he wrote in 1993. Headlined “sordid homosexuality — it’s becoming more entrenched”, it opens:
A week never goes by anymore that homosexuals and their sordid behaviour don’t become further entrenched in society. Unfortunately gays are here and, if the disease their unnatural acts helped spread doesn’t wipe out humanity, they’re here to stay.
It then praises those who “condemn homosexuality” as having “moral backbone”. It’s abject, hateful bigotry, scarcely believable as something that happened during our lifetime. He has apologised several times since (it emerged to haunt him when he was first elected in 2010, and last year when he was appointed to oversee the marriage equality survey, something he’d publicly questioned the need for). He also voted with his electorate (against his conscience) in favour of marriage equality, but it will surely be a weight around his neck for as long as he’s leader.
Since becoming Small Business Minister, McCormack talked of cutting red tape and loosening regulations, but rarely talked about the specific industrial relations reform to allow that. Indeed, for a conservative politician, he’s been oddly involved in industrial action. In 2002 his sacking from his role with The Daily Advertiser, prompted a 24-hour strike from his co workers — he then sued for unfair dismissal and received an out of court settlement the next year.
Move into politics
Following this he acted as a campaign director for Kay Hull, then-Nationals MP for Riverina, during her successful campaigns in the 2004 and 2007 federal elections, before receiving preselection to replace her when she retired in 2010. The Liberals ran a candidate against him, but he achieved a 3.6 swing in his favour. Over the next six years he took on various assistant minister portfolios (to Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, Deputy PM Warren Truss and Defence Minister Marise Payne) before being appointed Minister for Small Business after the 2016 election.
Small Business Minister
Apart from overseeing the Marriage Equality survey last year, his most high-profile act as Small Business Minister was to oversee the disastrous 2016 census, destined to be forever remembered sandwiched between a hashtag and the word “fail”. After widespread controversy about the threats the census posed to users privacy — now online, collecting people’s names and addresses — the site crashed on census night, leading to the ABS’ head statistician, as well as government frontbencher Christopher Pyne to declare that the site had been the victim of “attacks” — something McCormack publicly contradicted days later.
In 2017, it emerged that McCormack had spent nearly $50,000 in public money, claiming a travel allowance while staying in his wife’s Canberra apartment between 2013 and 2016. He explained this away in less than convincing fashion: “I get a travel allowance, others get penalty rates – it’s part of the package.”
Apart from that, McCormack’s time as Small Business minister has been relatively quiet on that national scene — he has the reputation of someone who plays to base, spending the majority of his time in his electorate and the surrounding areas.
Perennial silver medalist
This is not the first time he has expressed an interest in a leadership role for the Nats. With the retirement of Warren Truss in 2016 he threw his hat into the ring, before swiftly snatching it back to allow Barnaby Joyce an unopposed run. He did stand for deputy leader at the time, losing to Fiona Nash by one vote. When Nash was picked off by the section 44 fiasco, McCormack once again made a run for the deputy spot, losing out again by a single vote, this time to Bridget McKenzie.