But the incoming Deputy Prime Minister once had his own career-threatening scandal to overcome.
In 1993, the 53-year-old was editor of daily NSW newspaper, The Daily Advertiser. (His appointment in 1991 at age 27, made him the youngest daily newspaper editor in Australian history at the time.) It was in this position that he chose to write a homophobic editorial blaming homosexuals for the spread of AIDS and criticising gay pride marches.
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“A week never goes by anymore that homosexuals and their sordid behaviour don’t become further entrenched in society,” he opened the article.
“Unfortunately, gays are here and, if the disease their unnatural acts helped spread doesn’t wipe out humanity, they’re here to stay.”
He continued to say it was up to newspapers to act as “watchdogs on moral issues” such as gay rights.
If anyone reading this is wondering if it was acceptable to openly bash gay people in 1993, it wasn’t. The newspaper received backlash and McCormack apologised in a follow-up article.
However, the column threatened to destroy his political career before it even began when it was dug up ahead of the 2010 election he was running in. His statement that he had apologised and “moved on” seemed to end the discussions at the time, but in August last year when the story once again emerged during same-sex marriage plebiscite discussion a better apology was required.
“I have grown and learnt not only to tolerate but to accept all people regardless of their sexual orientation or any other trait or feature which makes each of us different and unique,” he said in a statement.
“I apologised wholeheartedly for the comments at the time and many times since, but I am making this statement to unreservedly apologise again today.”
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It seems those in his party have been able to accept his apology each time he made it. His rise to leader of the Nationals has been swift. After wins in his electorate in his first term – like lobbying against a proposed takeover of a grain company by a US giant – got him noticed, he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance.
From there he climbed through assistant ministerial positions and earned the Federal Small Business portfolio in 2016. As the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, he’s been allowed to work in an area he’s interested in and each year produces ANZAC booklets in the hopes of encouraging students to share stories of what ANZAC Day means to them.
His homophobic rant isn’t his only controversy. In 2016 it emerged he was using his taxpayer-funded travel allowances to pay off a mortgage in his wife Catherine’s name. However, it was reported at the time that he wasn’t alone in this, with one in five federal politicians spending their travel allowances on a second home, so the outrage eventually died down. He was also the minister in charge of Australian Bureau of Statistics during the 2016 Census fiasco which saw the website crash, inconveniencing thousands of people.
This week after gaining the support of the majority of his National party members, McCormack has taken the leadership along with his predecessor’s Infrastructure and Transport ministries. After being chosen as leader, he said he was going to do his best in the job.
“I will honour that faith and trust and responsibility by doing my best always. I am a team player and I am going to be doing it with the very best team in rural and regional Australia.”