Veterans Affairs Minister Michael McCormack has been elected the new federal Nationals leader, seeing out a last-minute challenge from Queenslander George Christensen.
Party members and senators had gathered for a special party meeting at 8am in Parliament House to see former leader Barnaby Joyce formally stand down after weeks of fall out surrounding his marriage break-up and relationship with a former staffer who is now pregnant.
“I want to make sure that people know that in me they will have a fighter. I have a huge challenge ahead of me,” Mr McCormack said after the vote.
He acknowledged the outstanding leadership of Mr Joyce and insisted his legacy would endure.
NSW MP David Gillespie and agriculture minister and Joyce supporter David Littleproud earlier withdrew from a leadership contest.
LISTEN: Natalie Joyce is devastated and so she bloody well should be.
But in a surprise move, Mr Christensen put up his hand, although his bid was unsuccessful.
“George has been a friend of mine and will continue to be so,” Mr McCormack said.
Earlier, Victorian MP Andrew Broad likened Mr McCormack to former leader Warren Truss.
“Michael is going to be a good guy. I think he will be a very solid performer, but it’s the team that wins elections,” he told ABC radio on Monday.
Mr McCormack has previously been criticised for penning a 1993 column when he was a former newspaper editor describing homosexuality as “sordid behaviour”. He has since apologised.
Mr Broad doesn’t believe Mr McCormack still holds those views.
“I think Michael has become a very savvy parliamentarian and we’ve all said silly things in our past,” he said.
Nationals backbencher Darren Chester said Mr McCormack, whose name is relatively unknown amongst the broader Australian public, should not be underestimated.
“People will like Michael McCormack when they get to know him. He is a hell of a nice fellow but he’s also a determined guy,” the Victorian told ABC TV.
“They wouldn’t want to underestimate him. He fights hard for his community.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who was acting prime minister when Mr Joyce rang to say he was standing down, said Mr McCormack would do an excellent job.
“He’s a very decent, fierce advocate for rural and regional Australia,” he told ABC radio.
Mr McCormack will on Monday visit Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to discuss the coalition agreement between the Nationals and Liberal parties.