Rural politician is new Aussie deputy PM

Mr Michael McCormack is seen as a safe pair of hands as the Liberal and National parties seek to repair their ties.
Mr Michael McCormack is seen as a safe pair of hands as the Liberal and National parties seek to repair their ties.

SYDNEY • A conservative rural politician was chosen yesterday to replace scandal-plagued Barnaby Joyce as Australia's deputy prime minister after he resigned over an affair with his now-pregnant aide.

Mr Michael McCormack, 53, was chosen by the Nationals - the junior partner in the governing Liberal-National coalition - to take over as party leader and deputy PM in a party-room vote.

"We are the party for small business and farmers and we want to make sure that continues and that can only continue with a close relationship with the Liberals," Mr McCormack told reporters in Canberra after winning the vote.

"Look forward to having a good discussion with (Prime Minister and Liberals leader) Malcolm Turnbull in a few moments," he added.

Mr Turnbull said he welcomed the new leader.

Mr McCormack, who had been serving as veterans' affairs minister, was widely expected to win the leadership role after other Nationals MPs withdrew from the race.

Mr McCormack is not as well-known as Mr Joyce, who made global headlines for threatening to euthanise Hollywood star Johnny Depp's dogs over a quarantine violation. But he is seen as a safe pair of hands as the Liberal and National parties seek to repair their relationship after the Joyce scandal.

Tensions between the two parties rose after 50-year-old Mr Joyce's affair with former staffer Vikki Campion, 33, was splashed across the front page of Sydney's Daily Telegraph in early February.

Revelations about the affair and allegations that Mr Joyce breached ministerial rules made daily headlines, prompting Mr Turnbull to harshly criticise his deputy's behaviour and impose a formal ban on sex between ministers and their staff.

Mr McCormack was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 representing Riverina, a rural region in New South Wales.

More than two decades ago, as a local newspaper editor, he wrote a column against homosexuality. In August, as he oversaw a voluntary nationwide postal vote on same-sex marriage, he "apologised wholeheartedly for the comments at the time".

He later voted in Parliament in support of amending the Marriage Act to legalise gay unions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2018, with the headline 'Rural politician is new Aussie deputy PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe