The former deputy PM could be back in the top job by tomorrow after Matt Canavan announced he’d quit Cabinet to support Joyce.
The former deputy PM could be back in the top job by tomorrow after Matt Canavan announced he’d quit Cabinet to support Joyce.

NATIONALS SPILL: Matt Canavan steps down to support Joyce

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce will challenge Michael McCormack for the leadership of the Nationals Party tomorrow.

The former Nationals leader received a huge boost after frontbencher and Nationals Minister Matt Canavan sensationally quit Cabinet tonight to support Mr Joyce in tomorrow's spill.

Minister Matt Canavan has thrown his support behind Joyce. Picture: Lukas Coch
Minister Matt Canavan has thrown his support behind Joyce. Picture: Lukas Coch

In a statement, Mr Canavan said he had offered his resignation because "I have come to the view that we need change in the Nationals Party leadership to effectively fight for regional Australia".

"It is my view that forthright leadership from the Nationals Part is needed more than ever," he said.

Mr Canavan's shock announcement came just hours after Queensland Nationals MP Llew O'Brien announced he would move a motion to spill the leadership at tomorrow's party room meeting and will back Mr Joyce to become deputy PM again.

Mr Joyce confirmed this morning that he would stand if both positions, for the deputy leadership and leadership of the Nationals, were put to a vote.

"If there is a spill I will stand. It is entirely up to them if they wish to spill," Mr Joyce told the ABC.

"A spill is a real option but not a certainty."

Mr Joyce appeared on Channel 7's Sunrise program this morning to remove any doubt about his intentions.

"If there is a spill on I will put my hand up," he said.

"Obviously after a spill, there is technically no leader. That is a right in a Westminster system of government. It is up to others if there is a spill.

"I believe that I've done the job before. Every seat we've got is one I've won at the previous election. But I'll leave that up to my colleagues, they can make the call."

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"Have you been told that they will make the call for a spill?" host David Koch asked.

"Well I'm going to leave that up to them, Kochie," Mr Joyce said.

"No, you must know though. You must have some sort of political stooges in the party who've said, 'Mate, we're going to call for a spill, are you going to run?'" Koch said.

"If they choose to do it, they choose to do it. I never put a certainty on anything. I've said every time people have asked me, if there's a vacancy I will stand. And I'll leave it up to my colleagues to make a choice of what they wish."

"Yeah but going on national TV the day before a party room meeting like this is pretty clear that you're putting your hand up," Koch's fellow host Natalie Barr pointed out.

"Going on national TV on a Monday on Sunrise is what I do every week, and of course it'd be more odd if I all of a sudden didn't appear," said Mr Joyce.

"But it's what you're saying, we're talking about. You've just said that you'll put your hand up if there's a spill. You want to be the leader, don't you?" she pressed.

"That's correct," he said.

Barnaby Joyce on Sunrise this morning. Picture: Seven
Barnaby Joyce on Sunrise this morning. Picture: Seven

Mr Joyce went on to pitch his credentials, saying his previous stint as leader gave the Nationals the highest number of Cabinet ministers in their history and more seats than they'd held in roughly three decades.

"We did a whole range of things, and I believe that if people want to investigate whether there's going to be a chance, now is the time to do it, two years before the next election," he said.

His Sunrise sparring partner, Labor's Joel Fitzgibbon, described Mr Joyce's move as a "vote of no confidence" in the leadership of the Nationals.

"Barnaby Joyce just told us that the National Party is dysfunctional, and indeed hopeless. My concern is that a dysfunctional government just got a whole lot more dysfunctional."

Mr McCormack himself addressed the issue at a press conference in Canberra.

"We want regional Australians to know they are our focus. Not ourselves. Not the Canberra bubble," he said.

"There is no vacancy for the leadership at the moment of the National Party. And I have delivered for regional Australia."

The incumbent defended his record as leader.

"I have absolutely made sure that the $100 billion of money that we are spending on infrastructure, that regional Australia has received its fair share," he said.

Mr McCormack also highlighted inland rail and extra money for a rural medical school network as achievements of his leadership.




"The fact is, there is no vacancy for the leader of the National Party. We have a vacancy for the deputy of the National Party. We will have a meeting, and decide this decision then."

The leadership has been thrown into question in the wake of deputy leader Bridget McKenzie's resignation on Sunday over the sports rorts scandal.

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The party will need to pick a new deputy on Tuesday, and that also gives MPs an opportunity to vote for a spill on the leadership, held by Mr McCormack.

Nationals MPs have approached Mr Joyce to challenge the incumbent, The Australian reported on Monday.

Mr Joyce resigned as deputy prime minister and leader in February 2018 after it was revealed that the married father-of-four had an affair with former staffer Vikki Campion and she was pregnant with his child.

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An intense month of scrutiny followed during which he was accused of improper conduct over his affair amid her moves to two other political offices.

Nationals MPs will gather in Canberra on Tuesday as federal parliament resumes for the year.

Queensland minister David Littleproud was widely expected to take over as Nationals deputy leader. Fellow frontbencher Darren Chester is another option.

Barnaby Joyce. Picture: Kym Smith
Barnaby Joyce. Picture: Kym Smith

Ms McKenzie resigned after an investigation by the prime minister's department boss Phil Gaetjens found she did not properly declare memberships of gun clubs that received grants when she was sport minister.

While she did not personally benefit, it was a breach of ministerial standards. However the Gaetjens report rejected any notion of the grants scheme being used to pork-barrel marginal seats ahead of the 2019 election.

That is despite the use of a colour-coded spreadsheet to designate marginal and target seats.

Mr Morrison said Ms McKenzie - who had provided "great service" as minister, most recently in the agriculture portfolio - had done the right thing by resigning.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Ms McKenzie had been "thrown under a bus" in order for Mr Morrison to avoid any responsibility. Labor wants to know more about the role of the prime minister's office in the grants scheme.

The Australian National Audit Office report found: "The evidence available to the ANAO is that representations were received across the three rounds both directly and indirectly, including through the prime minister's office."

"This needs a thorough investigation," Mr Albanese said.

Ms McKenzie said at no time did her membership of shooting sports clubs influence her decision making.

But she accepted not declaring them was in breach of ministerial standards. She stood by the idea of ministers having discretion over grants, saying it was "important to our democratic process".