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Barnaby 2.0 says he has his faults but wants to be a 'better person' on return to leadership


Barnaby Joyce says he hopes to return as deputy prime minister a better person after defeating Michael McCormack for the Nationals leadership, playing down concerns his return to the job could damage the party’s standing with women.

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Joyce was elected Nationals leader in a partyroom ballot in Canberra on Monday, returning to the position he lost more than three years ago.

The NSW MP quit in 2018 after scandals stemming from his affair with a staffer who has now given birth to the couple’s two children, as well as sexual harassment allegations he strongly denies.

Nationals MPs Michelle Landry and Anne Webster both expressed concern Joyce’s history could damage the party’s standing with female voters.

Joyce said he wouldn’t tell any group of voters what to think about him.

“I acknowledge my faults. I resigned as I should and I did,” he told reporters at Parliament House.

“I’ve spent three years on the backbench and I hope I come back a better person.”

He described the harassment allegations as spurious and defamatory but said he didn’t want to litigate them while Nationals leader in 2018.

McCormack refused to be drawn on what Joyce’s return would mean for the Nationals support among women.

“I’m a man in regional Australia so you’d have to ask women in regional Australia,” McCormack said.

“He’s got more numbers than me this morning so good luck to him.”

Joyce denied waging a three-year campaign to return to the leadership

“If I thought it was going to happen, I would have brought my hat,” he said, appearing without his Akubra.

Speculation grew over the weekend Mr McCormack was in danger of a second spill against his leadership after unnamed MPs briefed journalists.

“For the sake of good government – and not just good government – for the people of Australia, if you are going to say something, have the guts and gumption to put your name to it,” McCormack told reporters.

“Don’t background against your colleagues. It’s not good for the parliament. It’s not good for democracy.”

Queensland senator Matt Canavan, a public supporter of Mr Joyce, moved the spill motion.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison paid tribute to McCormack while saying the coalition would remain a strong partnership.

Morrison will have to navigate a new dynamic with Joyce widely regarded as a more combative force within the coalition.

That includes making it more difficult for Morrison to make a stronger commitment on reducing carbon emissions at a major international climate change conference in November.

Joyce, who has previously threatened to cross the floor on legislation linked to a net zero 2050 target, refused to confirm it would be a deal-breaking issue.

“It’s not Barnaby policy – it’s Nationals policy. Nationals policy is what I will be an advocate for,” he said.

The change in Nationals leadership could have other implications for the government with the junior coalition partner set for a ministerial reshuffle.

Bridget McKenzie, who quit after the so-called sports rorts saga, is expected to return to cabinet.

McCormack is weighing up his future in politics but vowed to be loyal to the coalition government.

With Joyce not being sworn in until Tuesday, McCormack officially remained the deputy prime minister during Question Time.

In bizarre scenes, he sat at the despatch box – where the prime minister usually sits – because Morrison remains in quarantine at The Lodge.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud retained his role as Nationals deputy leader.

Joyce failed to topple McCormack at his last attempt in February last year but prevailed at his second crack.

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