Michael McCormack dismisses claims he will stand down as Nationals leader

Sarah Martin Chief political correspondent
Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

The Nationals leader Michael McCormack has declared he will lead the party to the next election, dismissing suggestions he will stand down within the next two years to ensure stability within the Coalition.

McCormack, who has faced an uprising within the Nationals over his leadership style, said he maintained the full support of the prime minister and had been endorsed by a party room vote three times in the past two years.

A report in the Weekend Australian suggested McCormack would stand aside before the next election to make way for his new deputy, David Littleproud, but McCormack said he had no intention of stepping down from the role.

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“The fact is, I’m the leader and I’m going to lead the Nationals to the next election,” McCormack told ABC’s Insiders program.

“I haven’t thought it, I haven’t said it, [stepping down] and I’m not quite sure why it was written in that way.

“I have the prime minister’s full support [and] I’ve now put myself to the party room as a leader three times in less than two years, and three times in less than two years I’ve been endorsed as the party’s leader. That should be enough to draw a line under that discussion.”

He said that he was prepared to take the “free, frank and sometimes unfiltered” advice of his colleagues, and would attempt to be a more “inclusive” leader.

“Whether that’s me changing my leadership style a little bit, I think we all, every one of us in the national party room, needs to stop concentrating on ... self-indulgence,” he said.

McCormack also spoke stridently against the prospect of the government agreeing to a goal of net zero emissions by 2050 – something prime minister Scott Morrison has told Australia’s Pacific Island neighbours that the government would consider.

“I think if you go down that path, what you’re going to do is send factories and industries offshore, send manufacturing jobs offshore,” McCormack said.

“That’s not the Australian way. Regional Australia is more than doing its fair share, its fair share as far as making sure that we have lower emissions.”

When asked if he accepted warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the emissions target was needed to limit global warming, McCormack said the “IPCC is not governing Australia”.

“The Liberals and Nationals are – we took our climate policies, we took our emissions reduction policies to the election last May and we were re-elected.

“The Australian people have spoken – we’re not run by international organisations, we’re run by Australians, we’re run by Scott Morrison and we’re run by myself. And we’re run by the Liberals and Nationals.

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“Of course you’ve got to listen to the scientists but what you’ve also got to do is listen to the workers. Listen to those workers who put on a high-vis vest and go and work, and work hard in a coalmine every day, those people in central and northern Queensland who rely on the resources sector for a job, for a future.”

He dismissed a call from Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman to adopt the target, after the MP for the seat of North Sydney told Guardian Australia that the government should work towards adopting a target of net zero emissions by 2050, joining other moderate MPs who are agitating internally for a more ambitious climate change policy.

Higgins MP Katie Allen has also advocated for the net-zero carbon target as the ultimate ambition for the government.

McCormack said: “I’m not the member for North Sydney and good luck to Trent Zimmerman. What I want to make sure is that there is reliable, affordable power.”

The former resources minister, Matt Canavan, who quit cabinet in a tactical move aimed at trying to roll McCormack, also criticised the potential of a net-zero target, labelling it “fantastical”.

“How as a country can we commit to net zero emissions in 30 years time, where we’ll receive our last diesel submarine in 35 years time? I mean it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” Canavan told Sky News.

“I haven’t looked at the modelling or costs and benefits of net zero emissions closely because it just seems so fantastical to me. It seems like the kind of things that governments say, because they’re not doing much today but they’d like to try and hoodwink people that they might do something in 30 years time.”

McCormack’s latest defence of his leadership comes after a torrid fortnight for the deputy prime minister, after Wide Bay MP Llew O’Brien sensationally quit the Nationals last week and then accepted Labor’s nomination to become deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.

O’Brien, one of Barnaby Joyce’s closest allies, was the MP who moved the spill motion against McCormack in the first week of the parliamentary year after months of internal rumblings over the leader’s performance.

McCormack has attempted to “draw a line” under the Nationals’ internal ructions, declaring he is a “fighter” who retains the support of his party room.