Australia has been grappling with the news that Barnaby Joyce is back and some are happier than others, with much of the conversation centred around the controversial politician’s hopes to “come back a better person”.
Mr Joyce, “clawing his way back”, remained the talk of the town overnight as his “resurrection” to Australian politics trended just hours after his big move to win back the spotlight — and as well as the leadership, secrets were spilt.
Across the spectrum, from the ABC’s 7.30, The Project, to Sky News’ Peta Credlin and even the BBC, opinions were mixed on whether the reinstated Nationals leader and now Deputy Prime Minister has learned any thing from his past mistakes.
“He has a track record of being an outspoken Maverick,” political reporter Peter van Onselen told Project co-host Carrie Bickmore.
But it wasn’t just Barnaby in the firing line across online, radio and television.
The Nationals’ outgoing leader, Michael McCormack, was forced to defend his style of leadership in the hours since the dramatic vote in Canberra, labelled a dud on Monday night by Alan Jones.
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Mr McCormack was ousted after days of speculation that was ended by his colleagues by a leadership spill on Monday, replaced by the former leader, Mr Joyce. Mr Joyce will be sworn in today after winning the vote but all is not what it seems inside the circle, it seems. According to ABC’s chief political correspondent Laura Tingle, a group in the party “looked on in horror” as the vote took place.
Federal President of The Nationals Kay Hull made some pointed comments in a statement, claiming Mr Joyce “understands this responsibility” while hailing Mr McCormack as strong and determined.
“Michael is a man of honour and decency,” she said.
Meanwhile West Australian Nationals leader Mia Davies said it was “very disappointing” to see Mr Joyce return as the federal leader, and made a similar plea to rebuild trust after a rocky relationship with the western branch, who called for his resignation in 2018 after revelations of his relationship with former staffer Vikki Campion.
Insufficient evidence meant the investigation into the complaint was unable to make a finding.
But by Monday night, Mr Joyce was hailed by Ms Credlin on her program, Credlin, describing him as a “great retail politician”.
“He’s gregarious, he actually likes people. He’s a lot smarter than his detractors give him credit for and he works hard,” she said.
But she didn’t give him a free ride, saying at his worst, he can be “ill disciplined” and “prone to shooting his mouth off before he thinks or worse, he doesn’t do his homework to actually get the detail right”.
“Still, he’s managed to keep his authenticity, and the common touch,” describing that personality trait in the guarded halls of Canberra as “rare”.
Ms Credlin warned “those in opposition who think his personal life will impact this time around, need to think again”.
She hailed Mr McCormack – a “decent man” — for a graceful exit, but claimed he lost the numbers because he hadn’t given the Nationals enough of a “distinctive identity”.
Credlin’s Sky News counterpart Alan Jones also took to the screen, hailing Mr Joyce’s leadership as one that will “paradoxically save” Scott Morrison after a “rather tumultuous political day in Canberra”.
Jones slammed Mr McCormack, saying “any one who thinks that McCormack was a leader is in serious need of medication”.
In a juicy reveal he claimed the “true reality” was that Scott Morrison “can’t stand” Mr Joyce and was secretly backing Mr McCormack behind the scenes but will have to keep him in the inner circle to keep the numbers in their favour.
“Rural Australia has had a gutful of no leadership and the National Party were staring into political oblivion,” Mr Jones said.
In a statement, the Prime Minister meanwhile welcomed Mr Joyce to the role and said he looked forward to “working closely together to ensure Australia continues its recovery from COVID-19 and the recession it caused”.
On ABC’s 7.30, Tingle agreed Mr Joyce’s return “poses bigger problems”, citing Mr Joyce’s controversial history.
“I acknowledge my faults, I resigned, I spent three years on the backbench, I don’t walk away from making sure that I can be a better person, do a better job, Mr Joyce defended himself on Monday.
Waleed: ‘Strap ourselves in for a wild ride’
Meanwhile over on Channel 10, Waleed Aly said Mr Joyce’s trademark fire was “no doubt simmering below the surface as the government and the rest of us strap ourselves in for a wild ride”.
Hosting a discussion with political reporter Peter van Onselen, on The Project, co-host Carrie Bickmore joked it “had been a while since leadership spills”.
But Mr Onselen said Mr Joyce had wanted the job back for a while and it was only until he had the numbers to beat Michael McCormack that he could make his move.
Mr Joyce, a father of six, again rejected sexual harassment allegations on Monday as “spurious and defamatory” but he assured reporters and the public that he had also had time to reflect on his own behaviour.
His colleagues seems as divided as the experts.The Guardian reports the founding member of Australian Women in Agriculture, Alana Johnson, said Mr Joyce’s return was “astounding”.
Meanwhile in an exclusive interview with news.com.au’s Samantha Maiden, Nationals MP Michelle Landry raised the prospect that some women within the party and in the broader community would not cop Mr Joyce’s rehabilitation as leader.
Yet according toThe Daily Telegraph, “several women from Mr Joyce’s New England electorate said they supported their local MP taking up the leadership.
“Barnaby does have a heart for the country, I hope he might get on with doing something about the mice plague,” Tamworth community leader Elva Shumack told the publication.
Whether Mr Joyce will successfully manage and merge country and city this time around, only time will tell.