New twist looming for Barnaby Joyce's career
BARNABY Joyce could complete an unthinkable political turnaround and return to the leadership of the National Party, despite the scandal-ridden past that now plagues him.
Yesterday the Sunday Telegraph reported the Nationals' party room had "completely blown up" and none of its 22 members could confidently rule out the possibility of Mr Joyce calling for a spill this year.
Speaking to ABC News Breakfast this morning, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud stressed his party was satisfied with the performance of Michael McCormack, who replaced Mr Joyce as leader after his affair with former staffer Vikki Campion was revealed to the public.
"We are pretty happy. Things are back on track and people expect us to focus on them and not on us," Mr Littleproud said.
But he also fuelled the sudden surge of speculation about Mr Joyce's ambitions.
"Never say never in politics. The reality is it's a fluid place, Canberra. Anything can happen in the future and Barnaby has a lot more to offer in regional and rural Australia," he said.
"He hasn't broken any law. That's the reality. I'm not supporting his lifestyle choices but he's his own person and he's got the right to privacy."
One of the reasons Mr McCormack was chosen to succeed Mr Joyce in the leadership - his "nice guy" image - is now hurting him among colleagues who feel he lacks traction.
Mr Joyce has also been a strong fundraiser for the party in the past, a consideration which will become ever more important as the election approaches and MPs focus on defending their seats.
"Of course Barnaby Joyce, as the old saying goes, still has a field marshal's baton in his knapsack. Of course he does," former Queensland premier Campbell Newman told Sky News last night.
"As to whether he would ever come back after that position, well, I think a few other things have to go down before then. And surely he would see that it's not going to help the PM or the Coalition in an election lead-up for next year to have any sort of further instability on the Nats' side of the House."
Mr Joyce himself has been up front about his willingness to take on a leadership role again.
"You take the punches on the chin and move on, and I'm doing that. I'm going to make sure that the great honour I have of representing the people of New England, I'll keep doing it to the very best of my ability," he said a week ago.
He said he was "not touting" for the leadership but would do any job offered to him by his colleagues.
"Any job that my nation offers me, I'll take it and run with it and go as hard as I possibly can, because that's what you're supposed to do," Mr Joyce said.
"If responsibility is offered to you, you accept it. It's faux modesty to say, 'Oh no, I'll put that aside, because I want to live a quiet life.' You go as hard as you can and when you're sick of going as hard as you can, you get out."
Mr Joyce is currently serving the government as a special envoy for drought assistance - a position Labor labelled "a joke" and a "slap in the face" for farmers.
He has also been outspoken on energy policy.
Today, he told The Australian the government should "prioritise coal-fired power stations" instead of sinking money into the Snowy 2.0 hydro scheme.
"It is a net energy user, it doesn't create energy," he said of the hydro-electric proposal. "You can't increase supply by reducing supply, and this means you need baseload power."
His political career took an abrupt nosedive thanks to his relationship with Ms Campion, which was exposed earlier this year. The couple have since welcomed a son together, named Sebastian.
Breaking her silence about the saga during an interview with Channel 7's Sunday Night in June, Ms Campion said "conservatives" in the National Party had pressured her to terminate the pregnancy.
"They came to me and they said 'You're pregnant and you have to get an abortion'. And they said, 'If you don't, they're gonna come after you'," she said.
"And I said, 'it's too late, it has a heartbeat.' And they said, 'If you don't, they're gonna come after you.'''
Mr Joyce refused to name those who had targeted Ms Campion, but said they were "absolute scum of the earth".