Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce is facing a potential challenge following the loss of the Coalition turning over power to Labor for the first time in nine years.
Following the crushing defeat, the Nationals will need to renegotiate their coalition with the Liberal Party, with news of Joyce’s leadership of the junior Coalition party being spilled next Monday, May 30.
“Once the election is over, you go back to two separate parties and negotiate a coalition,” he told ABC News Breakfast.
But restlessness over Joyce’s leadership within the party has been growing since before the election, with some MPs and senators candidly seeking out a new leader.
While the Nationals held all 16 of its lower house seats, they failed to win over their targets of Lingiari in the NT and Hunter in NSW.
“The Nationals did not lose seats … The Nationals don’t have a problem,” Joyce said on Monday.
“The Nationals have done an incredibly good job when the tide was running strong against us.”
But former Nationals leader Michael McCormack, who was dismissed from his leadership position in June 2021, says Joyce is to blame for their loss of the six inner-city seats to climate-conscious independents.
Speaking to The Guardian McCormack said the “unnecessary” mixed messages on net zero emissions from the Nationals “didn’t help” inner-city seats.
I’m so old I can remember @Barnaby_Joyce saying in Government they would build countless dams…not one has been built.
— Tony Windsor (@TonyHWindsor) May 23, 2022
A number of the Nationals are also reportedly upset with Joyce’s signal that the Nationals may drop their support for net zero emission after the Coalition’s elections defeat.
However, Queensland Nationals senator and Joyce’s close friend, Matt Canavan argues that this year’s election sent a clear message to the Coalition, saying “when we go left, we lose” and the “leftist agenda” on the climate platform made it no longer credible.
McCormack, who had not ruled out another tilt at the National leadership, pointedly added that the Liberals may have won more seats if he had not been removed by his colleagues.
“Certainly, no inner-city politicians or candidate was ever campaigning against Michael McCormack and using my name and discussing my integrity and reputation,” he said.
“There shouldn’t have been a change of leadership of the National Party in June last year, there simply shouldn’t have.”
However, Joyce has continued to dismiss any suggestions that his party is to blame for the loss of Coalition seats.
“I’m not in the Liberal Party. I’m in the Nationals … people in inner-urban areas are not that stupid that they wouldn’t realise that the Nationals are not actually standing in their seats,” he said.
It is driving me crazy. Hey @Barnaby_Joyce when people vote Liberal or National they are voting for a COALITION government. To deny that is to deny post-war political history and the fact you were a key participant at the Liberal campaign launch. Get real.
— Paul Bongiorno (@PaulBongiorno) May 24, 2022
During this year’s election campaign, many independents and Greens sold the message that voting for the Liberal was a “vote for Barnaby Joyce”.
Nationals Gippsland MP Darren Chester is another party member who believes Joyce should take “some responsibility for the Liberal losses in the city”.
“It was simple and devastatingly effective to say a voter for those moderate Liberals was a vote for ‘dinosaurs’ in the Nationals who didn’t believe in climate change,” he said.
However, on Monday, May 23, Senator Canavan stood firm on his net zero comments.
“I’m not going to apologise for saying the truth, net zero is a failed agenda,” he said.
And while he believes the party room would determine who was best to lead the Nations, he has also commented that it would be “foolhardy” for the Nationals to oust Joyce as the leader, especially at a time when the Labor government needs to be held accountable.
“Now’s the time for stability as much as possible and we had a very good election result,” Canavan said.
“Barnaby did very well and deserves to continue to lead the party.”