Barnaby Joyce says he returns to lead the Nationals a “better person” after spending three years on the backbench and has vowed to consult with MPs on a new coalition agreement.
Joyce, who successfully toppled Michael McCormack in a leadership spill on Monday morning, said his colleagues had chosen him to lead the federal party because they wanted “the very best chance of winning the next election”.
“I’m not detracting for one second and one iota, the qualities that Michael has and has shown the parliament,” Joyce said on Monday.
“I’m not saying also that I have the same suite of issues, I have a different suite of issues, I have a different suite of attributes and I hopefully will be able to apply them in such a way as to give us our best chance.”
“That was not a decision, as I keep saying, that I made. It’s a decision that my colleagues made.”
The MP for New England, who has been on the backbench since he quit the leadership following a sexual harassment allegation in 2018, said he had resigned even though the allegation was “spurious and defamatory”.
“I will try always to be the better person,” he said. “I acknowledge my faults and I resigned as I should have and I did. I’ve spent three years on the backbench and, you know, I hope I come back a better person.
“I don’t walk away from the fact that you have to have time to consider, not only the effect on yourself but, more importantly, the effect on others.
“Hopefully, one learns from their mistakes and makes a better person of themselves.”
Joyce on Monday was asked whether he would make climate policy demands while renegotiating the coalition agreement.
“I’ll be talking with my party room, about what they believe is best for them, and then fighting on that premise,” he said.
“This is not Barnaby’s policy, it’s the Nationals’ policy. If the Nationals party room believes the best deal for regional Australia is to make sure we secure their jobs, is to make sure we secure their industries, is to clearly understand the dynamics of an Australian economy, as opposed to a Danish one or German one, if that’s the view of the Nationals party room, that’s the view I’ll be taking.”
McCormack earlier said that he had been “humbled” to serve as deputy prime minister. He said Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull had delivered “good and stable government” in challenging times.
“There have been bushfires, cyclones, storms, floods, and, of course, Covid-19, and all through it, we have been a good and responsible government,” McCormack said.
“I will go on supporting the Coalition government – the Liberals and Nationals – to continue to serve this nation.”
McCormack said he was yet to decide whether he would recontest the next election for his seat of Riverina.
McCormack remains deputy prime minister until Joyce is sworn in on Tuesday. Morrison in parliament praised his outgoing deputy for his “integrity, dignity, his work ethic”.
“We have enjoyed a close and a strong bond leading together as part of a strong collaboration,” the prime minister said.
The change of leader came after a spill motion was called by the former resources minister, Matt Canavan, on Monday morning. Joyce was able to secure a majority of 21 votes to take back the top job and double his salary to $433,000 a year.
The Nationals whip, Damian Drum, said “nothing changes” as a result of the spill other than the leadership position.
Joyce “has to go through a process now to be sworn in, to have all the conversations, to talk to the prime minister, and effectively get on with the job of representing our people,” he said.
Drum said the spill showed the Nationals were “the most democratic party in Australia”.
McCormack, who had said he was feeling “positive” ahead of the meeting, said he had thanked MPs for the privilege of being appointed to the role.
McCormack had earlier vowed to fight any move against him. “If I survive then the people who actually run against me, they should think long and hard about their futures,” he said before the vote.
The agriculture minister, David Littleproud, remains deputy leader but Joyce is likely to want to reshape the Nationals’ ministry representation as part of a new coalition agreement to be negotiated with Morrison.
Joyce’s appointment will complicate the Morrison government’s attempts to recast its climate policy as it edges towards a commitment of net zero emissions by 2050, with Joyce an outspoken critic of the move.
Joyce was forced from the deputy prime ministership in 2018 after a sexual harassment complaint was made against him by high-profile rural woman Catherine Marriott.
This came after it was revealed Joyce had been in a long-running extra-marital relationship with one of his political staffers, Vikki Campion. The affair became public once her pregnancy was revealed by the Daily Telegraph.
Joyce’s behaviour prompted the then-prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to introduce a ban on MPs having sexual relations with staff members, which became known as the “bonk ban”.
But an eight-month investigation by the NSW Nationals failed to make a determination about Marriott’s complaint, citing insufficient evidence.
Marriott said she was furious with the party’s handling of the complaint. “This outcome simply isn’t good enough,” she said at the time. “I’m extremely disappointed that after eight months of waiting … the National party have reached a no-conclusion verdict.”