But disaffected Nationals warned that Mr McCormack had been put on notice over his performance and the party’s direction, saying the party needed to be more assertive and may have to revisit the leadership question.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Mr McCormack moved to settle the tensions on Tuesday night by negotiating a small ministerial reshuffle that elevates Nationals MPs including Darren Chester and Keith Pitt to cabinet alongside the new Nationals deputy leader, David Littleproud.
Mr McCormack dismissed criticism he was a “pushover” in the Nationals’ partnership with the Liberal Party and contrasted his leadership style with others who were “bleating from the mountaintop” about themselves.
Mr Joyce insisted “the issue is finalised” after the party room, which was decided by a secret ballot. Party convention prevents the release of the final amount of votes for each candidate.
Mr Joyce’s camp say it was lost 11-10, however Mr McCormack’s supporters believe he won 15-6.
Mr McCormack said he would always support jobs in coal mining and the value of coal exports as reasons to back the industry against pressure from the Greens to scale it back, while calling on climate activists to volunteer for the Rural Fire Service instead.
“There are plenty of climate activists on the approaches to Parliament House today but how many of those were actually wearing RFS uniforms this season? How many of those were actually on food queues and doing the things they ought to be doing?” he said.
“I’ve had climate activists who regularly protest outside my office and I’ve said to them, ‘go and volunteer your time for Meals on Wheels.’
“They’re smart, articulate people and they could be doing better things.”
Speaking after Mr Joyce released a statement saying the leadership question had been “finalised” by the ballot, Mr McCormack said he took his challenger at his word and said he had been promised loyalty from the party room.
“Member after member after member stood up and pledged their devotion and their loyalty and their willingness to be unified,” Mr McCormack said, adding that this included Mr Joyce.
“I’m always somebody who, when somebody says something, I take them at their word.
“We have to draw a line in this, not for our sakes but for the people we represent.
“It’s not good enough that clear air has not been available for any longer than a matter of days, and it seems hours at times. It’s not good enough that we talk about ourselves and the media has this obsession with National Party ructions and leadership speculation.
“The people of Australia, particularly those who live in the regions, need to know that we are there for them, not ourselves.”
While other leaders have called for unity after winning challenges, Mr McCormack contrasted his fate with those who had been driven from power.
“I didn’t get blasted out. You always take learnings. I’ll take on board what my colleagues said [but] I don’t agree necessarily with everything the media has written about this latest attempt.”
Mr Joyce said he would turn his attention to helping his electorate survive the drought.
“The issue is finalised. This was made as brief as possible prior to the first sitting of Parliament for the year. Now it’s time we all got back to our jobs.”
New deputy leader David Littleproud said his colleagues now had to unite behind Mr McCormack.
“The shenanigans are over, it’s time to get back to looking after those people that are facing drought,” he said.
Critics of the Deputy Prime Minister have labelled him too weak on getting support for coal-fired power stations, a totemic question for some Queensland MPs.
Mr McCormack declared he would get results with Mr Morrison without going public on the disputes.
“While I love newspapers and respect them, I would much sooner get outcomes for the people I serve than go around bleating from the mountaintop about how good I am and what arguments I’m having with the prime minister of the day and achieving less,” he said.
Mr McCormack said Australia had one of the “greatest take-ups” of renewable energy in the world but needed to back the use of coal and other resources.
“I won’t support policies that are going to destroy the resources sector, particularly in central Queensland,” he said.
“We must always remember that it was central and northern Queensland where those seats we retained against the odds, and that helped us remain on the government benches.”
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra