Meet Nationals minister Michael McCormack. Here he is, having a laugh, with current Nationals leader and deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce.
McCormack is the 53-year-old Nationals MP for the Riverina and the minister for veterans' affairs and defence personnel.
Oh and he's also the guy being touted as Joyce's replacement, if the deputy PM bows to ongoing pressure to stand down.
As the clusterfuck that is the Barnaby Joyce affair-turned-civil-war continues to chug along, there are whispers a potential leadership challenge may take place as soon as next week.
Up to 65% of voters across the country believe Joyce should resign, with a third thinking he should quit politics altogether, according to the latest Newspoll.
Politicians vying for his job continue to background journalists, while publicly feigning ignorance about a spill.
Enter McCormack. He popped up on Sky News on Monday morning for a chat with host Ashleigh Gillon.
But the interview quickly turned into a high-speed train crash when McCormack refused nine times to say he supported Joyce remaining on as leader.
When Gillon asked for the 10th time, McCormack would only say that Joyce is the leader "at the moment".
The minister's office hasn't put out a transcript of his appearance on Sky, so we decided to throw one together so you could enjoy it.
Ashleigh Gillon: Well, Minister, it's difficult to focus on that of course when you are facing what is such a huge distraction in the Barnaby Joyce saga. The Newspoll out today shows 65% of voters think it's time for Barnaby Joyce to step aside as the Nationals Leader. Do you agree?
Michael McCormack: Well, the Nationals, we don't decide our office-bearers by Newspolls. The government doesn't govern by Newspolls. What we are doing, what we are focused on is making sure that there are jobs there for Australians and what I'm focused on today is what the veterans' affairs portfolio that I am doing here in Darwin, making sure that the commemoration of the 76th bombing of Darwin is properly respected, properly honoured. There were 300 Australians lost their lives, and it forged indelible links between the United States of America and Australia, links that will only be enhanced later this week when our prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, goes to the United States and meets up with the US president. And of course, we go right back to World War I, those links, between the US and Australia – forged to ensure that we can all live in peace and freedom, and that's what we honoured and respected today. And as veterans' affairs minister and minister for defence personnel, they're the sorts of things I’m concentrating on – making sure that the service and sacrifice of all of those who died here at Darwin on that tragic day, 76 years ago, is honoured, and the best thing we can do, best way we can honour those men and women too, is by making sure that the veterans are well looked after now, and that's why I was so pleased last week with the veterans-centric reform bill, which is going to, you know, provide for better assistance for the families of veterans and making sure that it's easier to access mental health care and support for our veterans of today and into the future.
AG: Minister, I agree those are very important stories and I can assure you we have been covering that Darwin service on Sky News today and we'll continue to do so throughout the day, but I am going to repeat my question to you...
MM: Thank you, it's important.
AG: ...which was: Do you agree with voters who have suggested that Barnaby Joyce now needs to step aside as the Nationals leader? Do you think Barnaby Joyce needs to make that call – is it time?
MM: Well, look, Barnaby's taking a week off and I'm sure that, I'm sure that members of the National Party are listening to our constituents, as we always are. I'm sure that we're listening to our National Party branch members, as we always do. And certainly I know that the Nationals are focused on delivering. Barnaby is having a week off. I think it's time that everybody took a deep breath and talked more about the things that matter. And the things that matter to Australians are jobs –
AG: Sorry, Minister, I am going to ask you again because you are avoiding my question, which is essentially does Barnaby Joyce still have your support as Nationals leader?
MM: Well, Barnaby Joyce has the support of the National Party and Barnaby Joyce is our leader, he's taking a week off, he needs the week off –
AG: Sorry, Minister, again, I'm asking you personally –
MM: He's requested the week off –
AG: You are touted as, as we've been reporting here, as the most likely person to take over as Nationals leader. So I'm asking again, does Barnaby Joyce continue to have your support as the Nationals leader?
MM: Barnaby Joyce has done a very good job delivering for rural and regional Australians, and as I went around on the weekend attending events, people were thankful for that infrastructure. They were thankful for the fact their kids have jobs and their kids have better health and educational outcomes because of the Nationals in government. We've been a very, very strong government. This has, sure, been unfortunate. This has, sure, been a distraction, but Barnaby Joyce is the leader, there is no spill, there is no vacancy at the moment and certainly Barnaby Joyce will continue to be the leader as long as he gets the support of the National Party room. And I do want to scotch one rumour while we're discussing this...
AG: Sure, Minister, sorry, I do just need to bring you back to this because it's actually not, it isn't a difficult question. Yes, you are pointing out you believe he's been a good leader, you were talking there in past tense though – I'm keen to know where you personally stand on this at the moment because it is an issue which really is dominating the political chatter around the country. Voters are very unhappy with the way, clearly from the Newspoll today, that Barnaby Joyce has been behaving – I'll ask you again, and I'm sorry to keep having to do this, but I'll ask you again: Does Barnaby Joyce have your personal support to continue on as leader of the National Party?
MM: Barnaby Joyce at the moment has the support of the National Party – that's what matters. Barnaby Joyce has the support for us because he has delivered very, very well for rural and regional Australia, and I need to, I need to –
AG: Michael McCormack, I can only read into this that he doesn't have your support because you keep referring to the fact that he has support of the Nationals Party, I keep asking you about your support.
MM: Well, I'd just like to, actually and I think this is an important point too. Sure, I just want to scotch a couple of rumours because I think it's important. There has been a lot of reporting in the paper about so-called meetings in ministerial offices between the member for Hinkler, the member for Mallee and myself – no such meetings have taken place. In fact, the member for Mallee visited my office last week to talk about a veterans' affairs matter and a regional development matter. Keith Pitt has not visited my office – repeat, not visited my office – whilst I have been the minister for veterans' affairs and no such discussion about Barnaby Joyce has taken place in my office. That's important.
I also read, and it was repeated in many, many newspapers that there is a so-called WhatsApp group between Nationals pushing for change. Well, if there is, I am not part of it. So, I think you can read into that what you like and at the moment, I am concentrating –
AG: Michael McCormack, I don't want to read into other reports in the newspapers because I am interviewing you right now. So I've got you here in front of a camera and I am keen for your view: Are you supporting Barnaby Joyce as the Nationals leader going forward? Are you ruling out a challenge against him?
MM: Well, Barnaby Joyce is the leader of the party and National Party members always get... Well, there is no challenge at the moment, Ashleigh, and –
AG: No, but the party room is meeting on Monday, so do you have any plans to challenge Barnaby Joyce on Monday?
MM: He has the party's support. There are no plans. There are no secret meetings taking place. As far as I am aware, there are no clandestine WhatApps chat groups between National Party members.
AG: So are you ruling out a challenge against Barnaby Joyce's leadership?
MM: I am concentrating on doing my job as the veterans' affairs minister. I am concentrating my job as the minister for defence personnel. There are 58,000 of them, many are based here in Darwin. I am looking forward to visiting Robinson Barracks with Brigadier Matt Pierce and seeing what we can do better, as a government, for those currently serving and also, for our veterans. I am also, of course, the member for Riverina.
AG: Minister, I am going to give you one more chance because after this interview, the headline that will be written is: Michael McCormack refused to offer support for Barnaby Joyce and refused to rule out a challenge to Barnaby Joyce –
MM: Of course I support Barnaby Joyce and if that is the takeaway from the interview, well it is a wrong take to make because of course, I support Barnaby Joyce. He is our leader, he has been a very good leader for the National Party –
AG: You support him going forward as leader of the Nationals Party?
MM: The National Party in government has delivered and has delivered the sorts of things that our people could have only dreamt of under a Labor government. And I read with interest, that Jim Chalmers and Chris Bowen are putting together some financial economic manifesto for Australia should Bill Shorten go into government. Well, that would be the worst possible outcome. The Turnbull-Joyce government has been a very good government for Australia: delivering mobile black spot towers, delivering water infrastructure, delivering inland rail, and making sure that young people and older too, have a job, have a job today, and have a job into the future.
When asked if he would put his hand up if Joyce stepped aside, McCormack said: "it's a very hypothetical question and we will just have to see what happens in the future".
"Of course there has been talk about what may or may not happen but at the moment, Barnaby Joyce is the leader of the National Party. At the moment, Barnaby Joyce has the support of the National Party. And he has that support because we have delivered, the Nationals as a party have delivered very, very well for regional Australians."
Reminder: This is real life, not an Armando Iannucci TV show.
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
Contact Alice Workman at email@example.com.
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