Mr O’Brien claimed the job – and a nice $42,000 pay rise – by a margin of 75-67 on the floor of the House of Representatives, with support from Labor, the crossbench and a small handful of disgruntled Nationals MPs.
In doing so, he defeated the Government’s proposed candidate, National Party whip Damian Drum, and handed Prime Minister Scott Morrison his first loss in the House since winning last year’s election.
It was, above all, a difficult result for Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, whose favoured candidate lost because of a rogue element within his own party.
“That’s democracy,” Mr McCormack told the House after the vote, adding that Mr O’Brien would do a good job.
One of those rogue Nationals was Barnaby Joyce, who tried and failed to overthrow Mr McCormack as leader of the Nationals a week ago.
Another, ironically, was Ken O’Dowd, whose job as the Nationals’ deputy whip usually involves ensuring everyone votes with the party – not against it.
Mr O’Dowd told the ABC he was happy a fellow Queenslander got the job.
“He is only a couple of doors away from where I live, and I know he will do a good job,” he said.
“It is good to have one of our own in that position. Happy for him and happy for Queensland.”
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Mr Morrison was magnanimous in defeat, personally congratulating Mr O’Brien and welcoming his appointment.
“With two government members to choose from, I’m pleased to see government members received confidence of all the members of the House,” he said.
“There is no shortage of government members in this House to make sure that we continue to deliver on the promises we made the Australian people.”
Labor, on the other hand, was clearly happy its ploy of nominating Mr O’Brien for the deputy speakership had worked.
“No amount of marketing or spin can hide the humiliation for the Government. I congratulate the member for Wide Bay,” said Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese.
“We have just seen the stability of the Coalition on full view. For everyone to see, government members running against each other.
“And for the Prime Minister to stand up and to pretend somehow this is a win, I congratulate the Prime Minister on his capacity to make anything into a marketing proposal.”
Mr Drum, meanwhile, seemed a little shell-shocked as he got into his car to leave last night.
“Well, I just didn’t think … anyway, I was pretty surprised,” the beaten candidate said.
Mr O’Brien’s win on the floor of parliament came shortly after he officially confirmed he had quit the Nationals’ party room. According to The Courier-Mail, that decision came after a “shouting match” with Mr McCormack.
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The practical effect of the move is minimal. Mr O’Brien remains a member of Queensland’s Liberal National Party, continues to sit in the joint Coalition party room and says he will guarantee supply for the Government.
However, one side effect is that Mr Joyce will have one fewer vote in the Nationals’ party room should he try to challenge Mr McCormack again.
Several MPs were asked about the political chaos as they entered parliament this morning. Having slept on yesterday’s events, they delivered mixed assessments.
Nationals MP Michelle Landry, who supports Mr McCormack’s leadership, said Mr O’Brien’s election was an act of revenge by the core group of MPs who had backed Mr Joyce.
“I am disappointed with what has happened,” Ms Landry said.
“It’s been a torrid couple of weeks. Now they’ve had their victory, let’s get on with it.”
Liberal backbencher Rowan Ramsey offered a more positive spin on the situation.
“We’re talking about individuals that are determined, they have high expectations of their own performance and they are prepared to go out and have a go,” he said.
“The alternative is to have a parliament full of people who just go along with the mob, don’t push their point of view and are not prepared to argue a point of difference.
“I don’t think that’s probably what Australia wants. I think they want ambitious people here, prepared to have a go.”
And Matt Canavan, who dramatically resigned from his position in the ministry to back Mr Joyce, acknowledged it had been a “rough day”.
“It was obviously a rough day yesterday. I had a pretty rough week myself last week, but I’ll bounce back, I’ll get on with it, and I’m sure the Government will too,” Mr Canavan said.
– with AAP