National Party leaders take aim at Barnaby Joyce3:32
Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie has taken a swipe at her colleague Barnaby Joyce for fuelling internal tensions and demanding the federal government invest in coal. Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Ms McKenzie says Mr Joyce's call for a tax-payer funded coal-fired power station in central Queensland is ‘very different’ to what the rest of his party wants. NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro delivered a blunt message for his federal colleagues bickering about energy and leadership, telling them to 'just shut up'. Tensions between party leader Michael McCormack and his predecessor boiled to the surface this week when Mr McCormack took a veiled swipe at Mr Joyce for saying the Nationals were not 'married' to the Liberals on energy policy. Image: News Corp Australia
The Nationals’ internal tensions have exploded again today, with the party’s leading figures lining up to take potshots at Barnaby Joyce.
There are two issues behind their anger — Mr Joyce’s renewed leadership ambitions, and the push from some MPs for the government to support the construction of a new coal-fired power station in Queensland.
Mr Joyce is one of those MPs, which puts him at odds with current Nationals leader Michael McCormack.
Funding a new coal-fired plant would risk upsetting voters in key Liberal seats across the southern states. But Mr Joyce says that isn’t the Nationals’ concern.
“We are not married to the Liberal Party,” he said yesterday. “If we’re going to agree with everything they say, we should join the Liberal Party.”
A number of Mr Joyce’s colleagues just want him to pipe down.
“It’s absolutely frustrating,” NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro told Sky News this afternoon.
Mr Barilaro is in the middle of a state election campaign, and believes Mr Joyce’s intervention will only hurt.
“We’re now having to endure again the conversation piece federally, which I call navel-gazing, worrying about what’s happening internally rather than what we’ve been focused on, and that is the people and the community we represent,” he said.
“Michael McCormack is the leader. They’ve gone through that change. There’s no appetite. I’m at pre-poll and have been for two days, and no one is interested in a leadership change.”
Mr Barilaro said he had not spoken to Mr Joyce about his concerns.
“I’ll probably have a quiet word to Barnaby at some point,” he said.
“We just want him to shut up. We just want him to be quiet. Stop talking about themselves, be constructive.”
He rejected the idea of subsidising a new coal-fired power station, saying it was “up to the private sector” and the market would sort it out.
“If any private company wanted to put a proposal forward for any energy installation, be it coal-fired power, wind, solar, you name it, whatever it is, there are processes that allow for a decision to be made,” Mr Barilaro said.
“The truth is, the market will not support another coal-fired station. We know that. There is no real interest. The finances won’t be there.
“I don’t believe any governments will ever subsidise coal going forward.”
The Nationals’ federal deputy leader Bridget McKenzie also took a shot at Mr Joyce, albeit a subtler one.
“What Barnaby Joyce is saying publicly is very different to what the party room is saying,” Ms McKenzie told reporters.
“I think Australia is frustrated, you know, that there is a politician out there that’s not focused on their needs and issues.”
She chided Mr Joyce for saying he was still the “elected deputy prime minister” of Australia.
“Michael McCormack is our leader. We all back him to the hilt. He’ll be leading us to the federal election,” she said.
“On any measure, the National Party has been delivering for regional Australia, and under Michael McCormack’s leadership we will continue to do so.”
Ms McKenzie’s fellow minister David Littleproud echoed her language, saying he also backed Mr McCormack “to the hilt”.
He then laughed, sharing a “private joke” with her.
Perhaps the joke is that Malcolm Turnbull once used the same line, referring to Mr Joyce when he was Nationals leader back in November of 2017.
“As prime minister, as Barnaby’s friend and colleague, I support him to the hilt,” Mr Turnbull said.
A few short months later, he was publicly pressuring Mr Joyce to quit.
While Ms McKenzie and Mr Littleproud saw the funny side, Victoria’s Nationals leader was all business when he spoke to ABC radio today, saying people were “shaking their heads” at Mr Joyce’s behaviour.
“Barnaby Joyce had the support and respect of his colleagues and the party when he was deputy prime minister, and he owes that to the current deputy prime minister,” Peter Walsh said.
He said the fact that Mr Joyce was not repaying the favour “says more about Barnaby than it does about the Nationals”.
“A team is alwaysgreater than any individual,” Mr Walsh said.
“Someone should take Barnaby aside and explain that to him.”
Mr Joyce insists he is not pushing for a change in leadership before the election, but says he will put his name forward if a spill is called.
Mr McCormack slapped down his comments about not being “married” to the Liberal Party yesterday, taking an apparent dig at Mr Joyce’s own failed marriage.
“I understand when you have a marriage it’s a two-way relationship,” the Deputy Prime Minister said.
“I understand that. I understand what it takes to have a successful marriage.”
Mr Joyce resigned the leadership of the National Party last year after the public learnt of his affair with a former staffer, Vikki Campion.
The relationship destroyed Mr Joyce’s marriage to his wife Natalie, and strained his relations with his four daughters.
Mr Joyce was later asked about Mr McCormack’s gibe, and said he would “move on”.
“I hope it was a faux pas, and I’ll stick with that belief,” he said.
“You’re very, very blessed to have a strong marriage. It is incredible. Unfortunately, sometimes things break down. They did with me. And of course there’s guilt, and there’s hurt, there’s anger, and there is an absolute sense of bewilderment.
“You are super sensitive to any sort of things that take you back to that sort of pained place. All I’d say to anybody is to be really careful when you go into that sort of space.”