Joyce, Canavan must share blame for Liberal wipeout, McCormack says

Federal election 2022

Former Nationals leader Michael McCormack has lashed his successor, Barnaby Joyce, and firebrand senator Matt Canavan over the roles they played in the election campaign and its wash-up, and confirmed he is considering a bid to regain the party’s leadership.

McCormack said Joyce was used as a weapon against the Nationals’ partner in blue-ribbon Liberal seats and that Canavan was “nuts” to intervene in the middle of the campaign to declare the Coalition’s policy to reach net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050 “dead”.

Barnaby Joyce, left, toppled Michael McCormack as Nationals leader in June last year with a pitch of expanding the Nationals’ seat count and putting more pressure on the Liberals for increased rural funding.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The Liberal Party was decimated in its heartland by Labor, Greens and independent “teal” candidates with more ambitious climate goals and could lose up to 20 seats. The Nationals retained all their seats but suffered swings against them in many.

“We can’t just point the finger at the Libs for those losses. We gave people an excuse to park their votes with the teals and they did so in such numbers the Libs lost,” McCormack said in an interview.

Under party tradition, the positions of Nationals leader and deputy leader, currently held by Queensland MP David Littleproud, will be opened to a vote. Along with McCormack, Victorian MP Darren Chester has said he is weighing up a tilt, as is another Queensland MP, Keith Pitt.

The Nationals’ party room last year ultimately voted to support former prime minister Scott Morrison’s net zero policy but not before Joyce argued to his colleagues they should not sign up. On Monday, Joyce signalled the Nationals’ support for net zero was again open for discussion following the election loss.

Joyce toppled McCormack in June last year with a pitch of expanding the Nationals’ seat count and putting more pressure on the Liberals for increased rural funding. The party did not win the seats it had targeted for expansion – Hunter in NSW and Lingiari in the Northern Territory – and suffered swings against it in 12 of the 19 seats it contested.

“The teal candidates used our party leader’s name against the Liberals in their inner-city campaigns,” McCormack said.

“We settled where we needed to land [on the net zero policy] then in the midst of a heated campaign Canavan came out and said it was dead.”

McCormack said a commitment to net zero was always going to happen.

“Net zero by 2050 is still 28 years away and anyone who thought the Coalition would be in government for all that time … is in fairyland.”

Several Nationals MPs who declined to be named agreed Joyce and Canavan had to accept a share of the blame for the election outcome but argued that Morrison and the local candidates were ultimately responsible.

Joyce said on Monday the Nationals would reconsider their support for net zero and he would not rule out breaking away from the Liberals.

McCormack said the Nationals were in a “despairing” position now the Coalition was out of government.

“We are a partner in a Coalition that served Australia well. We now find ourselves in a groundbreaking defeat,” he said. “You cannot deliver in opposition when you are not on the treasury benches arguing for services for regional people.”

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