FEDERAL Nationals members must do more “soul searching” and look beyond the “self-interest” of keeping their jobs, such as within the ministry, when deciding whether to raise a spill motion next week to depose of Barnaby Joyce as leader, says John Cobb.
Mr Cobb says Mr Joyce is now an “object of ridicule” which devalues the role of Deputy Prime Minister and his leadership of the Nationals is now “untenable”.
Mr Cobb was a NSW Nationals MP for 15 years before he retired ahead of the 2016 federal election, having served on the frontbench as Shadow Agriculture Minister for the Coalition in the Abbott Opposition from 2010 to 2013.
He was also prominent in working behind the scenes, unsuccessfully, to try to thwart Mr Joyce’s ascent to replace Warren Truss as party leader, which he subsequently took-over in early 2016.
“I actually tried to make sure that the best person got the job around the time Warren announced he was stepping down as leader, and it’d be true to say I believe the wrong person got it,” Mr Cobb told Fairfax Media.
“But that’s not the issue at all – the current situation is untenable.”
Mr Cobb was asked to comment on the controversy that has entangled the Nationals with Mr Joyce’s leadership under intense fire due to revelations of an affair with former media adviser Vikki Campion who came to work in his office, as Agriculture and Water Resources Minister, after the 2016 federal election.
Mr Cobb stopped short of saying recent events had proved him right in terms of prior warnings about Mr Joyce’s leadership capacity, and said his views had nothing to do with making any “moral” judgment about the New England MP’s personal affairs.
“The issue really is, if Barnaby can’t make the decision about whether he’s more important than the National party, or in particular and more importantly whether country Australia is more important, then the party is going to have to make it for him,” he said.
“I can’t speak for other people’s feelings about it – I’m not making any moral judgments – but the truth is in politics, once you’re an object of ridicule you’re finished.
“And to be Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of certainly the second oldest political party in Australia, you cannot be an object of ridicule.
“Regional Australia needs leadership and Australia needs to know it has a Deputy Prime Minister who they can count on.
“But we’re in a position where, every time from now on, when the current Deputy Prime Minister gets up in parliament, he’s going to be tagged and hounded with all of the various trappings of what’s going on now.
“He’s a free hit for everyone now – that’s the problem – how do you command the respect of the House (of Representatives) when you get up and they call you (names)?
“It’s not necessarily a matter of morals and do all that sort of thing; it’s a matter of being able to stand up straight and do your job.”
Mr Cobb said he believed the older generation were “fairly shocked” by recent events concerning Mr Joyce and the Nationals while others didn’t want to know about it.
However, he said the situation had to be resolved imminently to avoid further damage to the Nationals amongst voters and arrest the loss of public trust.
“The Nats aren’t at a cross roads - Barnaby is,” he said.
“But if they want to ignore the situation, they’ll create a cross roads.
“Quite obviously, as Queensland has said, this has to be resolved.
“It’ll drag on while it’s quite obvious that a lot, or certain sections of the media, are not going to let this go.
“It’s not the morals of the situation - it’s the situation itself that has to be resolved.
“And the party cannot allow this to go on much longer, or not only they, but the government and the country, will continue to suffer.”
NSW Nationals MP Michael McCormack has been touted as the leading contender to replace Mr Joyce and is understood to have fallen narrowly short of the votes needed to raise a spill motion to defeat him for the party’s leadership in early 2016 and for the two most recent deputy-leadership votes.
Mr Cobb said he didn’t get to make a choice about who should actually replace Mr Joyce because he was no longer a member of the party room that actually voted on the matter.
But he said current party members, who are now considering their party’s leadership options and the potential consequences, while taking constituent feedback, ahead of a party room meeting next week, should not be “frightened” or guided by self-interest, in reaching their ultimate determinations.
“From what I’m hearing, there’s one obvious choice (for leader) and I don’t think there’s much doubt that that person would get it and probably should have had a more senior position some time ago,” he said.
“The problem you have in the National Party at the moment, or this would almost certainly have already been resolved, is that amongst those, or probably the majority of those who actually have jobs in the National Party, they are all frightened that under a new leader they may not have them.
“So self-interest, unfortunately, has had a bearing on the fact that they’re in the position they’re in now.
“There’s got to be a little more soul searching and a little bit more reality taken, by those who currently have jobs.”
With Mr Joyce’s affairs and leadership tenure dominating media focus for the past fortnight, Treasurer Scott Morrison was asked if the WA Nationals withdrawing their support yesterday had made the current leader’s position untenable.
But he said “It's a matter for the National Party”.
“That's what the Prime Minister has said - I've said what I have had to say on this topic,” he said.
“It is for the National Party to determine.”
Senior Liberal powerbroker Christopher Pyne said Mr Joyce’s party support was needed to retain the Coalition in government.
“Obviously the leadership of the National Party is a matter for the National Party - it’s not a matter for me or the Liberal Party,” he said.
“How they manage their affairs is a matter for them.
“We are in Coalition with them.
“We need their 16 seats to form government (in the House of Representatives).
“We have 60 and the reality is Barnaby Joyce is the Leader of the National Party and they will make their own decisions about that in the future, not me.”
Asked why he won’t resign, when speaking to media last week, Mr Joyce said “Quite simply because that is not a decision of my colleagues, it is a right of the leader of the National Party to reflect on where their colleagues are”.
“My colleagues support me - we have a job to do,” he said.
“This was a personal issue - a personal issue that has been dragged into the public arena and I don’t believe people should be resigning in any job over personal issues.”
Mr Joyce denied that by refusing to resign, he would continue to be a distraction for the government and continue to damage it.
“No I don’t,” he said in reply to the question.
“I believe it is incumbent on all people to make sure that we get back to the issues that are important, that is what I do.
“I am quite supported obviously by my electorate and my electorate is the catalyst for getting back to my job at the last by-election.”
He also denied that by not resigning, it was a failure to take responsibility for his actions.
“No it’s not - that is saying that you are going to now make personal issues incumbent upon a job and in any workplace in Australia when personal issues become the determination of a job then I think we’ve moved to a very sad place,” he said.
It’s understood some Nationals members are receiving varied feedback about the matter from voters and constituents in their electorates, with some expressing support for Mr Joyce to remain as leader and others just as firmly against it.
Mr Joyce – currently the Infrastructure and Transport Minister – has taken a week of personal leave due to recent events and ahead of next week’s party meeting in Canberra when federal parliament resumes where it’s understood he currently has 12 out of 21 votes needed to remain leader, including all five Senators.
- Barnaby Joyce
- David Littleproud
- Damian Drum
- George Christensen
- Kevin Hogan
- Michelle Landry
- Llew O’Brien
- Bridget McKenzie
- Nigel Scullion
- Matthew Canavan
- Barry O’Sullivan
- John Williams
Against Barnaby or possibly undecided
- Michael McCormack
- Mark Coulton
- Keith Pitt
- Darren Chester
- Luke Hartsuyker
- David Gillespie
- Andrew Broad
- Ken O’Dowd
- Andrew Gee
- Does this article interest you? Scroll down to the comments section and start the conversation. You only need to sign up once and create a profile in the Disqus comment management system for permanent access to all discussions.