Michael McCormack to fight for Nationals leadership amid rumours Barnaby Joyce may mount second challenge

“You haven’t seen just how much of a fighter I am. I’m determined to continue to do the job that I have done for two years,” he said.

“I’ve got the support of the majority of my party. I would like to think that my party – my entire party – would rally behind not me but the cause that I espouse, the cause the National Party has stood up for for 100 years.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack says he’s a fighter.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“I was sent here to do a job. I wasn’t sent here to lead a rabble, a destabilised rabble.”

Mr McCormack is caught up in a furore over travel claims after The Courier Mail revealed messages from his chief-of-staff, Damian Callachor, that the arrangements for the Nationals meeting in March were being made so MPs had “appropriate travel entitlements” to attend.

The newspaper said this meant Mr McCormack’s office “plotted” to help MPs claim taxpayer funds to attend the March 13 event by setting up a party meeting even though it was a Nationals celebration of the party’s 100 years.

Mr McCormack ruled out this approach and said MPs would be paying their own way.

“Those sorts of organisation affairs are matters for the party at a management level, they’re a matter for the staff,” he said.

“Taxpayers won’t be funding the arrangement because I’ve made clear that members, if they want to attend, should pay for themselves.”

Amid reports the Prime Minister’s office was angry at the public controversy, Mr McCormack said he had not had a conversation with Mr Morrison about the affair.

“These are organisational matters for the party, they’re not a matter that the leader of the party or indeed ministers or indeed even party members other than the party whip would be involved in,” he said.


Mr McCormack said people in his office had spoken to people in Mr Morrison’s office, but it was wrong to say the two leaders had spoken.

“The Prime Minister hasn’t said to me, ‘Michael, this needs to happen,’ or, ‘Michael, that needs to happen’ – at the end of the day it’s a National Party gathering.

“You would expect as National Party members, if we’re all coming together in the one city, that, yes, we would all have a meeting, we would discuss the various things that are ongoing.”

Mr McCormack insisted he had only heard of the arrangements within the past 24 hours because travel was a matter for the organisation and its staff.

In an interview with the Nine Network’s political editor, Chris Uhlmann, the Nationals leader said he “absolutely” enjoyed the complete faith of the Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack entering Parliament for question time on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack entering Parliament for question time on Wednesday.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“If we have our discussions or our differences we have them behind closed doors – the public doesn’t need to know that, that shouldn’t be grist for the media mill,” he said of his relations with Mr Morrison.

“That should be discussions between two party leaders for the best interest of the nation, the best interest of the people we serve.

“I’m really pleased that the Prime Minister has taken a lead on the drought.

“I’m really pleased that after we had that sit-down discussion on the day he became Liberal leader, and of course the Prime Minister of Australia, that the first place he said he was going to visit was Quilpie, a drought-stricken area.

“We were as one. I said to him, ‘Prime Minister, I want you to focus on the’ – and I was just about to finish the sentence and he said ‘drought’.

NSW Nationals MP and Regional Health Minister Mark Coulton backed Mr McCormack and said he was frustrated at the division.

“I didn’t go into politics to be part of a soap opera,” he told the ABC. “The people that I represent in regional Australia couldn’t give a rats toenail, quite frankly, about the machinations of the National Party.”

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