Acting Nationals Leader Bridget McKenzie has urged her party to put forward just one candidate to replace Barnaby Joyce, after the embattled MP announced on Friday he would quit the role.
Mr Joyce’s decision followed almost a fortnight of pressure to fall on his sword, after it was revealed he had an affair with his former media adviser.
In a separate matter, a sexual harassment claim has also been levelled at the Nationals heavyweight.
So far, there are two candidates to replace Mr Joyce as party leader when the Nationals meet in Canberra on Monday morning — Veterans Affairs Minister Michael McCormack and Assistant Minister for Children and Families David Gillespie.
“Conventionally around leadership, there usually isn’t a vote,” Senator McKenzie told the ABC’s Insiders program.
“Deputy leadership positions are obviously hotly contested, but convention has been in previous times that we only ever have one candidate.
“But who knows? That’s up to the members and senators.”
Senator McKenzie defended the record of Mr Joyce as a champion for regional Australia, but conceded his move to the backbench was timely.
“I think Barnaby made the right decision on Friday to announce that for the sake of the Government, I think importantly for the sake of his family, that he would be resigning his leadership and Cabinet position on Monday,” she said.
“Barnaby is not dead, he is still in the party room, and so we’ll be drawing on all that wisdom and experience over coming months.”
The woman who made the sexual harassment claim against Mr Joyce said she never intended for the issue to become public, and Senator McKenzie suggested the National Party had done all it could to ensure that did not happen.
“I think it’s important that complainants in this sort of issue request confidentiality, that that is absolutely adhered to and I have absolutely no evidence to suggest that the National Party has been the one to actually put Ms Marriott’s name forward,” Senator McKenzie said.
“I have commitments from the federal president and our federal director, the National Party did not breach Ms Marriott’s request for confidentiality, nor would it, nor should it.”
Coalition remains solid, insist Government frontbenchers
With the election of a new Nationals leader, the Coalition agreement between the Liberal and National parties will have to be renegotiated.
Senator McKenzie said it should remain the same as it is now.
“I think it’s important we have a seamless transition tomorrow, that the Coalition agreement negotiated post our election remains in place,” she said.
That is despite calls from Nationals backbencher George Christensen to scrap the formal deal, and for the junior party to only support the Liberals on issues of confidence and supply.
“I am confident that the National Party overall understands that the best way to have a say in government is to be at the table of government, to make sure that they are in the Cabinet room as the decisions are being made,” Liberal Minister Simon Birmingham told Sky News.
“George says lots of things.”
The Joyce saga is easy fodder for the Opposition, who will use Senate Estimates hearings this week to grill public servants over Mr Joyce’s use of entitlements amid the affair with his former media adviser.
Labor’s Jason Clare said the pain will not be over for the Coalition, suggesting Mr Joyce will relish the opportunity to sit on the backbench unshackled by the constraints of being Deputy Prime Minister.
“Whoever they elect tomorrow, that person can expect to be undermined by Barnaby Joyce,” Mr Clare said.
“He goes back to the backbench, but just like Tony Abbott you can expect him to fester and agitate and try and derail the Government from there.
“They’ll be like Statler and Waldorf from The Muppet Show.”