Our journalism usually sits behind a paywall, but we believe this is the time to make more of our content freely available to as many readers as possible. For more free coverage, sign up to COVID-19 Watch.
nationals abc
Nationals Leader Michael McCormack.

It’s almost impressive. We are in the middle of the worst global pandemic for 100 years and at the same time Mike Kelly’s retirement means there is a real chance of the Coalition snatching the seat of Eden-Monaro back from Labor.

And yet the Nationals is are still managing some Olympic level infighting.

After what he saw as Michael McCormack’s “lack of public enthusiasm” for his bid for the seat, the New South Wales Deputy Premier, John Barilaro, sent the federal Nationals leader a scathing text:

To feel threatened by me clearly shows you have failed your team and failed as a leader. You will never be acknowledged by me as our leader. You aren’t. You never will be.”

How does this happen? Crikey runs an eye over the network of national party alliances and infighting seemingly endemic in the party.

Barnaby and Co

It’s understood that McCormack was not keen on having a figure as volatile as Barilaro in his federal party room. And honestly, who can blame him? His leadership is already groaning under the weight of party infighting.

So many of the Nationals’ issues — mismanagement of the agricultural portfolio, intra-party fights with the Liberals, and insensible horniness  — emanate from what we at Crikey like to call “the Barnaby Joyce of it all”. The consistency of National Party infighting is no different.

The last leadership spill happened only in early February. In 2020 time, three months ago really is another era, huh? The failure to knock off McCormack revealed (or is that re-revealed) several ruptures inside the party. Although it wouldn’t reveal the numbers — so we don’t know how close he came — the former Nationals leader clearly thought he was a contender. Joyce was supported by …

Matt Canavan: the two are close allies. (They even have a podcast together where they forecast the end of their own political party! Classic!) Canavan quit his position in cabinet to support Joyce’s coup attempt. Afterwards he pledged his commitment to McCormack. The leadership spill came about after the resignation of …

Queensland Senator Llew O’Brien, a long time Barnaby supporter who quit (he stayed a member of the LNP but vacated the Nationals’ party room) and called the spill. He was praised at the time by …

Ken O’Dowd, who said he was impressed O’Brien “had the balls to do it”. When the Labor Party pulled a decent bit of skulduggery to vote O’Brien up as deputy speaker, O’Dowd then went ahead and voted against the party line — despite being deputy whip, meaning his job was to keep everyone toeing the party line. This can’t have endeared him to …

Damian Drum, the man he was supposed to vote for. Drum has been a public backer of McCormack — and slammed Barilaro this morning in the Oz.

McCormack and Co

This is much quieter.

McCormack’s key backers include NSW MP Mark Coulton, who became Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government in the post-spill reshuffle.

Another, Andrew Gee, got promoted to the outer ministry with responsibilities for regional education and decentralisation.

One of the few high-profile Nats to plausibly preserve the impression of loyalty to McCormack has been David Littleproud. He rebuffed Joyce’s offer to be on his ticket, won the ballot to become deputy leader, and took back the agriculture portfolio after Bridget McKenzie’s sports rorts forced her resignation.

But as the AFR wrote in a fairly positive profile, if questions remain over McCormack’s leadership (narrator: they absolutely will), Littleproud will “inevitably have to make the call between being loyal deputy or challenger”.

If you come for the king, you’d better not miss. However, if you come for McCormack and miss, everyone just assumes you’ll try again.

As for Eden-Monaro, who knows? Andrew Constance, the Liberal who had benefited from McCormack’s unwillingness to push for Barilaro, shocked everyone by pulling out less than 24 hours after accepting the nomination. This would appear to leave a clear run for another Coalition troublemaker, Liberal Senator Jim Molan.

As for the Nats’ next move, only a fool would dare attempt a prediction.

Peter Fray

This crisis will cut hard and deep but one day it will be over.

What will be left? What do you want to be left?

I know what I want to see: I want to see a thriving, independent and robust Australian-owned news media. I want to see governments, authorities and those with power held to account. I want to see the media held to account too.

Demand for what we do is running high. Thank you. You can help us even more by encouraging others to subscribe — or by subscribing yourself if you haven’t already done so.

If you like what we do, please subscribe.

Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

Support us today