NSW Senator and Rural Health Minister Fiona Nash has been elected the new National Party deputy-leader in a party-room ballot in Canberra tonight.
Senator Nash said the most obvious difference was, “we have a girl as part of the leadership team”.
“With any changeover you reflect on the great things we have done and in the past and then we add new ideas,” she said.
“The Nationals are a family.
“We really are an extraordinary party where we might be small but we punch way above our weight.
“I want to thank my husband David and my boys Will and Henry - I wouldn't be standing here as the first female deputy-leader of the National Party if it wasn't for them.”
As expected, New England MP Barnaby Joyce was named the new National Party’s new leader having faced no candidates at last night’s meeting, resulting from Warren Truss’s retirement having led the party since 2007.
Mr Joyce said the party’s leadership was “an awesome responsibility”.
“I know that there is a sense of excitement that we have seen, not only throughout Canberra, not throughout the National Party, but throughout the nation,” he said.
“I must say, it is spectacular when you turn on the television and the nation is talking about the leadership of the National Party.
“This responsibility is not taken lightly - this responsibility is taken with all the respect that it deserves.”
Senator Nash replaces Mr Joyce as deputy-leader after fending-off six other candidates who contested the post during a secret ballot.
Mr Joyce said he and Senator Nash and NT Senator Nigel Scullion would now begin to devise the party’s position on a new Coalition agreement that’s needed to form government with the Liberal Party.
The previous agreement was struck between Mr Truss and Malcolm Turnbull after the change of Prime Minister in September last year and saw a number of policy agreements galvanised or struck including water policy being transferred into Mr Joyce’s Agriculture Ministry.
“We believe a substantive document was drawn up last time,” Mr Joyce told Canberra media immediately after become the new leader.
“If we need to revisit that, we can make those decisions tonight.
“I don't want to go much beyond that.
“I don't think there will be anything dramatic - we aren't foolish.
“We know we're not that far away from an election.
“Our focus is clearly laser-like on making sure that the Australian people get a clear juxtaposition between an effective Coalition which we are and the unfortunate position that the Labor Party currently finds themselves in which is basically looking for a cliff to jump off.”
Mr Joyce said discussions about portfolios - including whether he’d hold onto agriculture - would now be up for discussion.
“We have strong interests in the things that fulfil the requirements of the people we serve in regional Australia,” he said.
“They are interested in roads, transport and the price of commodities.
“They are interested in their standard of living, in their economy.”
Mr Joyce said however the Nationals are entitled to a fourth cabinet position which is expected to see a Queensland party-member elevated – possibly Keith Pitt who also challenged for the deputy-leadership.
He said he would make a decision over the next 24 hours as to whether he’d change portfolios but party sources say Mr Joyce’s private preference is to retain agriculture.
NSW National Party MPs Mark Coulton, Michael McCormack; David Gillespie and Luke Hartsuyker and Victorian MP Darren Chester; also challenged for the deputy-leadership during the hour-long meeting.
Each of the seven candidates was allowed a short-speech to the 21-member party-room forum, to push their leadership credentials.
Earlier in the day, Mr McCormack ruled himself out of the party’s leadership race after weeks of speculation suggesting he was a likely challenger to Mr Joyce.
Asked whether there would be ongoing division in the party’s ranks – given the intense media speculation leading up to the leader-ship change, the new leader said he wanted to “recognise and commend is the decision by Michael McCormack”.
“It is never a stronger statement of character that someone who puts themselves aside for the betterment of their party and the betterment of the nation by so doing,” he said.
“That will mark him amongst his colleagues and amongst all who view him into the future.”
Mr Joyce said each of his colleagues spoke about unity and “the purpose of the party having a united front”.
“I believe that is driven by their desire and their clear understanding that we are all in politics and we understand to have the greatest affect, you have to have the greatest purpose of your numbers and to have 21 people working as one gives you better bang for your buck than five different groups of four,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Mr Truss said any talk of retribution for anyone who was linked to challenging Mr Joyce was “not the Nationals way”.
“We’re a team we’re a family and we work closely together and we’ll be looking to get the maximum benefit out of everyone,” he said.
“And for somebody to put themselves forward as a candidate for leader or deputy leader that’s not a weakness and that’s part of the way which a democratic party should work.”
Mr Truss said he suspected the Trade Ministry – to be vacated by retiring Liberal MP Andrew Robb – was one his party would be interested in.
He said the Trade Minister needed to be someone who had a good understanding of Australian industries like agriculture which were benefitting from other trade deals and positive conditions.
Mr Truss said he was offered Trade the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott after coming to government but was impractical, given the volume of overseas travel and necessity for the party leader to spend more time at home.
Senator Nash said it would be “quite a different National Party” but they would continue focusing on those people outside the major capital cities “who need us to fight for them”.
Senator Scullion said it had been an important time for the National Party and “We don't change leaders glibly or easily”.
“It is a tough and sincere decision for us because when we make these decisions, these decisions are here for a long time,” he said.
“I hope you forgive us for taking a couple of days - we are making sure we focus on the interests of Australia.”