John Barilaro and Michael McCormack (Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

January is always the silly season for news when they bring in the B-teams both on and off air, but with actual news happening this year the pollies look worse than usual.

Forget the fact that all politicians should not be seen or heard at this time of year — the pandemic and US political chaos means anyone with “acting” in front of their title is not going to miss their 15 minutes in the spotlight.

Case in point, the waste of space that is Michael McCormack, the man with such a tenuous hold on the federal National Party leadership that he only got there because of Barnaby Joyce’s bad behaviour — and is only still there because Barnaby isn’t.

And by the quirk of fate that is a federal Coalition he is also technically the next in line when the prime minister takes one of his regular holidays. It explains why Scott Morrison was so secretive about his Hawaiian jaunt in 2019 — to avoid revealing that the lightweight McCormack was temporarily in charge.

No rampant bushfires this year so the PM thought it was safe to go back into the water, but then the United States underwent a near-coup requiring a modicum of leadership here.

Morrison’s mealy mouthed response to it all last week set the tone for acting PM McCormack who has given a number of terrible interviews over the past 48 hours.

Leaving aside the question of why he is doing any interviews at all, much less a series of them, the real question is why he keeps making the same mistakes.

He has repeatedly equated the anarchy at the US Capitol with last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, repeated the offensive “all lives matter” line, has repeatedly defended George Christensen spreading misinformation by claiming “facts can be contentious”, and repeatedly failed to rein in Craig Kelly’s increasingly dangerous rantings.

It must be genetic in the National Party leadership. Take a look at that barrel of awfulness in NSW, Nats leader and Deputy Premier John “Pork” Barilaro who has re-emerged from his self-imposed exile after trying to blow up the state government a few months ago.

Gee whiz, in a pandemic you can get to stand next to the chief health officer at a press briefing every single day and look very serious and like a real leader.

Until you open your mouth.

Barilaro didn’t step back even when the premier returned this week. There was a tell-all interview with The Daily Telegraph describing his personal COVID heartbreak over the deaths of family in Italy — before he weighed into a spat between the Western Australian and NSW premiers, obviously forgetting he wasn’t “acting” anymore.

On 2GB radio he called WA Premier Mark McGowan a “goose” over comments about NSW’s COVID-19 suppression strategy, then continued blathering with: “He’s relying on royalties from mining — gee, the way China’s going that may bite him on the bum.”

Even Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has ignored the “go away in January” rule and has been commenting on things non-economic, like defending free speech in a tacit endorsement of the pro-Donald Trump line.

He did have time to stop a $300 million Chinese construction takeover but he might want to start checking out to which tax haven the new owners of Virgin are quietly shifting ownership of the struggling airline.

No wonder then that Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, who has been having problems getting noticed lately, couldn’t resist a quick press conference outside the hospital after a serious auto accident in Sydney at the weekend.

At least his media contributions are less of a car crash than his opponents’ at the moment.

What do you make of the summer political fill-ins? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say column.

Peter Fray

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