Michael McCormack’s meteoric rise to the top of the nation’s political arena is complete.
The 53-year-old Riverina MP, who has been a relatively steady presence in parliament since his election in 2010, was officially elected the leader of the National Party in an early morning ballot on Monday.
The minister for veterans affairs and small business had been widely tipped as a potential next head of the Nats as the Barnaby Joyce saga unfolded over the last fortnight.
Federal Nationals MPs and senators gathered for a special meeting at Parliament House at 8am on Monday, where Mr Joyce officially stood down from the leadership position.
With main fellow contenders NSW MP David Gillespie out of the race and staunch Joyce supporter David Littleproud ruling out a tilt on Sunday, Mr McCormack was elected head of the party.
The only other challenger was George Christensen.
Addressing the media after the ballot, Mr McCormack acknowledged the contribution made by Barnaby Joyce and vowed to continue to “fight” in his new position.
“He’s been an outstanding leader … his legacy will endure,” he said.
“I realise the challenge and responsibility ahead of me.
“I want people to know, in me, they will have a fighter."
BREAKING. Michael McCormack beats George Christensen to be elected Nationals Leader, says whip Michelle Landry. pic.twitter.com/BaCeQ7CMeh— Latika M Bourke (@latikambourke) February 25, 2018
Mr McCormack said the National Party was the party for water, farmers and small business.
“I certainly have never shirked from any tough decision and I will never be silent when I ought to speak,” he said.
“I want to also pay tribute to Bridget McKenzie who has done great work as the deputy leader for Barnaby Joyce, following on from the good work and the great work by Fiona Nash.
“We are very, very lucky in the National Party.
“We have diversified people, we have versatile people, we have people from all walks of life and together, united, going forward, we will serve the rural and regional areas to the very best of our ability, in the best interest of nation.”
Mr McCormack, a former editor of The Daily Advertiser, was elected the Riverina member in August 2010 after the retirement of long-standing MP Kay Hull.
He was comfortably elected in a three-cornered contest that drew an opponent from Liberal Party.
He has three children with his wife, Catherine, and prior to the election ran a small media business based in Wagga.
During his time in politics, Mr McCormack has come under fire for homophobic columns he printed in the 1990s, using parliamentary allowances to rent a Canberra home owned by his wife, the bungled census and his involvement in running the same-sex marriage plebiscite.
Just prior to the 2010 election, columns Mr McCormack wrote re-emerged, with a 1993 piece demonising homosexuality coming back to haunt the political hopeful.
As small business minister and the man responsible for the Australia Bureau of Statistics, Mr McCormack was in the line of fire and resisted calls to stand down in 2016 when the first online census resulted in a meltdown. An estimated 16 million people were expected to log on to complete the census but the website was shut down after being attacked by foreign hackers. He had only been in the position for a few weeks.
The columns again came to the fore in 2017 and combined with the editorial comments to raise questions as to Mr McCormack’s suitability as a key player in the rollout of the same-sex marriage plebiscite.
In 2016 he was forced to defend claims he was rorting taxpayers after it was revealed he was paying his wife $273 per night to live at her Canberra investment property.
His election to the head of the Nationals could put an end to a tumultuous few weeks in parliament.
- Barnabygate: How did it get to this?
- Nats leadership overshadows parliament
- Labor ready for the Tony and Barnaby show
- 10 most Barnaby things ever to happen to Barnaby Joyce
On February 7, it emerged Mr Joyce, who revealed in parliament last year that his 24-year marriage had broken down, is expecting a baby with a former member of his staff.
Speculation on whether Mr Joyce would stand down from deputy prime minister started early. His portfolios and his position in its entirety came into question almost straight after the news was confirmed. Northern Tablelands state member Adam Marshall’s name was thrown in the mix to run for the federal seat.
What came next was the decision that Mr Joyce would go on leave for the period prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is in the United States. Before he left though, Mr Turnbull altered the Ministerial Code of Conduct banning all ministers from having sex with a staffer.
Barnaby Joyce announced he wasn’t going anywhere. He blasted suggestions he should be ousted as Nationals leader as a "witch-hunt".
Buit it was allegations of misconduct that led to Mr Joyce standing down on Friday.
Since then, maverick Queensland MP George Christensen has called for the Nationals to break the coalition, characterising the Turnbull government on a "leftward drift" which was shackling the Nationals.
But Senator McKenzie reaffirmed the coalition and its arrangements.
Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop said it was solely up to the junior coalition partners to choose who they wanted to become leader and the deputy prime minister.