What a shemozzle. A week after the mad uncle, Barnaby Joyce, tilted unsuccessfully to snatch the National party leadership back from Mr Invisible, Michael McCormack, the divisions not only in the Nats but across the government are now spilling out like the guts of a bloated fly-blown carcass of a cow.
Despite Keatingesque protestations of having only one shot in the locker, it’s now clear the mad uncle intends nothing of the sort. It’s hard to believe that Joyce acolyte and McCormack antagonist, Queenslander Who O’Brien, would have first pulled the plug on the National party room and then sensationally accepted the deputy speakership gifted by a mischievous Labor and a handful of mad uncle supporters without a wink and a nod from the mad uncle himself. It’s also hard to believe the hitherto non-entity O’Brien has any independent political mind of his own, though the promise of a huge salary boost must have overcome any scruples he may have had about profiting from putting himself before his parliamentary team.
But in playing Labor’s game, the mad uncle’s supporters merely were taking full advantage of the stupidity of Mr Invisible. Reading Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, McCormack lost his reading glasses. Instead of “with malice towards none”, he saw “with malice towards some”. So instead of doing the smart thing, swiftly reinstating resigned and respected cabinet minister and Joyce consigliere Matt Canavan in a gesture of leadership magnanimity, Mr Invisible promoted non-entities to the cabinet and outer ministry (that doesn’t include Darren Chester, who deserved a cabinet return for having that rarest of National virtues, competence) because they supported him over Joyce.
And don’t get us started on his keeping Ms Shameless Spreadsheet, Bridget McKenzie, as Nationals Senate leader. If there was any signal about how weak McCormack’s leadership position is, that is it.
In a word, Mr Invisible’s paranoia and mismanagement brought this pretty pass on himself. As a result of his mistaking pursuing vendettas for proving his strength to his enemies, McCormack has ensured the Nationals party room remains a nest of vipers and the mad uncle will not go back to the attic. Instead, Joyce soon will have another tilt and will most likely be successful.
If the mad uncle was the highly able Barnaby of old, that would be a good thing for the government. But he’s not. His return to leadership would be like the deranged Marius’s vengeful return to the Roman consulship, if slightly less bloody.
But what’s truly inexcusable is the Nationals fratricidal poison starting to infect the Coalition joint party room. The issue that caused today’s party room flare-up between MPs may have been coal and energy policy, and a coterie of inner-city Liberal know-alls whining about the aggressive pro-coal tactics of Canavan and other Nats free from the constraints of ministerial responsibility, but it’s really increasingly frustrated and angry Libs across the factions resenting the Nats tail constantly wagging the Coalition dog.
Ironic really, as the Joyce leadership pitch is the Nats under McCormack aren’t standing up to the inner-city Liberals.
When a majority government can’t win a ballot to support its own candidate for deputy speaker, the message is the mad uncle really does have the ability to call the shots on the floor of the House, as he claimed after last week’s leadership vote. Joyce clearly is unafraid not just to humiliate Mr Invisible but the Prime Minister himself if it ultimately removes McCormack. As a result of the fratricide in his junior partner’s ranks, the months-long Passion of Scott Morrison continues through no fault of his own.
Mr Invisible’s leadership is now untenable. But the mad uncle alternative also is untenable and dangerous for the Coalition and the country. Worse, the talent pool from which to draw a competent, viable National party leader – a muddy puddle since the Howard years – has dried up. What blocks, what stones, what worse than senseless things are the current crop of Nationals MPs.
It looks like the only real choice for the cockies is a compromise candidate in the newly-elevated deputy leader, David Littleproud, who appears to have the confidence of sufficient Invisible and mad uncle supporters. Given their personal history, it’s likely Joyce would skewer the other viable contender, Chester, should he stand. But unless this disgraceful Nationals leadership vacuum is filled fast, the Coalition will flounder, the Morrison government will struggle to regain its balance and restore voter confidence after a bruising three months, and Labor’s Anthony Albanese stands to win the next election by default.
It’s that serious.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.