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McCormack says Nationals would have fared better under his leadership

Chris Roe23 May 2022
Michael McCormack and family

Michael McCormack said the Coalition would’ve performed better in the federal election if he were still the Nationals leader. Photo: Supplied.

Former deputy prime minister Michael McCormack has taken a swipe at Barnaby Joyce, who reclaimed leadership of the Nationals following a spill last year.

“There shouldn’t have been a change of leadership in the National Party in June last year,” McCormack said today (23 May) after an election that saw the Coalition booted from government by a wave of “teal Independent” candidates.

Despite a 12 per cent swing against the Nationals in the Riverina, McCormack was never in doubt and cruised into a fifth term with a 65.1 per cent majority on preferences.

Joyce was also re-elected as the Member for New England but, with the move to Opposition, he is no longer the Coalition’s second-in-command.


READ ALSO: McCormack offers a $20 million Wagga Airport upgrade if elected


He reclaimed the leadership from McCormack last June after serving three years in the wilderness following sexual harassment allegations and a high-profile affair. At the time, he said his colleagues backed him because he offered “the very best chance of winning the next election”.

Less than 12 months on the Nationals held their ground but “took a bit of a haircut” at the polls, according to McCormack.

“The votes were much higher last time than they are this time, so others can work out the math,” he said, taking veiled jab at Joyce.

“Certainly no inner-city politician or candidate was ever campaigning against Michael McCormack and using my name, and discussing my integrity or reputation,” he said.

When asked directly whether he believed the Nationals would have performed better with him in charge, McCormack replied with an emphatic “yes,” before adding: “we retained all our seats and so I’ve spoken to Barnaby and I’ve told him ‘well done for retaining all our seats’. At the end of the day retention of seats is the key”.


READ ALSO: Coalition’s $20 million election promise to Charles Sturt University


In the lead up to Saturday’s poll, McCormack was busy campaigning across the region and pledging tens of millions of dollars for infrastructure projects like the Wagga Wagga airport, an Agribusiness research facility at CSU and a convention centre.

With the funding contingent on a Coalition victory, McCormack passed the ball to Labor candidate Mark Jeffreson and Labor-aligned Wagga city councillor Dan Hayes.

“I hope that they now, like me, will lobby Anthony Albanese to make sure that those funding commitments come true,” he said.

When asked to explain the 12 per cent swing against him in the Riverina, McCormack pointed to the large number of right-leaning contenders and the challenges of the past few years.

“We couldn’t have prevented some of the things that [happened] and of course, there were people out there spouting things that simply weren’t true,” he said.

“We had a lot of anti-vaxxers; we had people talking about liberty and freedoms and then wanting more government intervention to prevent the sort of things that did happen,” he said before conceding: “There are lessons to be learned for the Nationals from the election. That’s always the case”.


READ ALSO: Overwhelming optimism for Wagga’s future tempered by labour and housing challenges


McCormack dismissed the suggestion that the Coalition had underestimated concerns over climate change.

“We’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting in regional Australia and [have] the highest take-up of rooftop solar anywhere in the world per capita,” he said.

“Regional Australia has led the way. I don’t see many solar farms in inner-city areas.”

He also suggested that parliament now included a new party in the form of the teal independents.

The loosely aligned candidates that decimated Liberal party ranks were primarily funded by Climate 200, a political action group established by renewable energy investor Simon Holmes à Court.

“These people are well financed, they are well organised and they are a party,” he said.

“I think we need to have a very serious look at the increasing Americanisation of our political system, such that you can buy democracy.”

Mr McCormack expressed his sympathy for outgoing Coalition colleagues and paid tribute to Ken Wyatt, Australia’s first Aboriginal Minister for Indigenous Australians. He described Wyatt’s election loss in Hasluck, WA, as a “tragedy for our nation” and put forward a suggestion about the Noongar man’s future.

“I hope one day he is the Governor-General. I think it would be very appropriate that he’d be the first Indigenous person to fill that honoured role,” he said.

For the time being McCormack said he would be getting on with business in the Riverina, although the question over his leadership ambitions remains open.

“The seat will be legally vacant at our next party meeting and we’ll see what happens,” he said.

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