Michael McCormack has been talked about as a future Nationals leader. (ABC News: Adam Kennedy)
Meet two of the men who loom as possible replacements for outgoing Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce.
Both hailing from New South Wales, the Nationals stronghold that has delivered most of the party’s leaders in the last 50 years, former journalist Michael McCormack is going up against former gastroenterologist David Gillespie.
McCormack: ‘A fighter with the drive to deliver’
Mr McCormack’s motto is “don’t be silent when you ought to speak”.
Which is curious given the Nationals MP has been notably coy while Barnaby Joyce has been besieged.
But now Mr Joyce is stepping down, Mr McCormack is stepping up.
He has announced he will stand for the leadership, declaring himself a fighter with the drive to deliver.
Mr McCormack acknowledged Mr Joyce’s two years in the job, saying: “His legacy will endure.”
“I wish him well for the future.”
Mr McCormack is an ambitious man who trained as a journalist and became the youngest ever editor at the Wagga Wagga newspaper when he was 27.
Mr McCormack has been the man the local paper reports on since he won the seat of Riverina in 2010, replacing Kay Hull when she retired.
He’d put in the ground work, managing many of Mrs Hull’s campaigns.
Shortly after his election, Mrs Hull said she would back him to one day become Nationals leader.
“I think he would aspire, and he should aspire, to leadership,” she said at the time.
“But if he had the choice of leadership against something that was going to severely impact on the people [of the Riverina], then I think he would make the decision to go with the people,” she said, before pausing and adding: “Well, I’m hoping for that.”
He’s been eager for promotion, twice contesting the deputy Nationals leadership.
Most recently he narrowly lost to Bridget McKenzie last December.
What does McCormack stand for?
He’s a family man who rubs shoulders with those in suits as well as the local footy players, and appears as comfortable in a pub as he is in the halls of Parliament.
The 53-year-old cuts a composed figure, barely drinks alcohol, and knows how to deliver a speech.
Mr McCormack took a cautious approach when he first entered Parliament, and was a late adopter to any social media, once saying it was too easy for politicians to get themselves into trouble with a poorly-placed tweet.
He was first known nationally for his handling of the bungled 2016 Census.
As then-small business minister, he was tasked with overseeing the plan to move the Census online, only to watch on as the site overloaded and was shut down for 40 hours after a cyber attack, leaving the debacle to be ridiculed as #CensusFail.
Mr McCormack has also had to repeatedly apologise for a newspaper column he wrote in 1993 in which he demonised gay people for “sordid behaviour” and argued they were responsible for spreading AIDs and “if the disease their unnatural acts helped spread doesn’t wipe out humanity, they’re here to stay”.
He says he doesn’t hold those views now, and when it came to the same-sex marriage vote in Parliament last year he voted in support, arguing it was the will of his electorate.
If he was to take over the Nationals leadership, Mr McCormack would have to manage the partnership with his Liberal colleagues, which has been stress tested in the past two weeks.
He saw the darker side of that relationship when he first ran for election in 2010.
Coalition convention means that Liberals and Nationals don’t usually compete against each other, unless the sitting member is retiring as Mrs Hull was at the time.
He had to fight a three-cornered contest against the Liberals and Labor.
Mr McCormack won easily with 45 per cent of the first preference vote — he’s since extended that and now holds a comfortable 16 per cent margin — but at the time it raised some eyebrows.
That election saw the Coalition and ALP win 72 seats each, with Julia Gillard forming a minority government with crossbench MPs.
The question always lingered: If Liberals had poured that money and effort into a marginal seat rather than trying to pinch a safe seat from the Nationals, could they have picked up an extra spot in the Lower House and won government?
In this sense Mr McCormack’s very entry into Parliament put the spotlight on the workings and competitive nature of the Coalition partnership.
Gillespie: Abbott’s ally turning thoughts into actions
Mr McCormack’s rival Mr Gillespie spent 33 years as a doctor, 21 of those as a specialist gastroenterologist, before swapping that for a life in parliament.
“Four or five years ago I thought that I could shout at the TV for the rest of my life and throw the paper in disgust or get involved in politics,” Dr Gillespie said in his first speech to parliament five years ago.
He had won the seat of Lyne, based around Port Macquarie and Taree in New South Wales, when independent Rob Oakeshott retired.
Dr Gillespie was elected to the safe seat of Lyne following Rob Oakeshott’s retirement. (AAP: Alan Porritt)
It is a safe seat with a strong Nationals history; former party leader Mark Vaile held it for 15 years.
At 60, Dr Gillespie is older than his rival Mr McCormack.
Dr Gillespie has a strong ally in former prime minister Tony Abbott, who he has known from childhood.
And while introducing himself to parliament in 2013, Dr Gillespie thanked his “great friend, confidant, adviser and mentor”.
In his first frontbench appointment he drew on his medical background, becoming assistant minister for Rural Health in July 2016.
Then in December’s reshuffle Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull gave Dr Gillespie new responsibilities as assistant minister for Children and Families.
Those are relatively junior roles as an assistant minister, while Mr McCormack is more senior and has also spent longer on the frontbench.
It means that if Dr Gillespie is chosen as Nationals leader on Monday, it would come with a significant promotion into Cabinet.
But that victory would come with a niggling worry.
He is fighting a High Court case over the ownership of a post office agency, which Labor argues is a potential breach of the constitution.
Legal processes are dragging on, but Dr Gillespie does not believe it should stop him becoming leader.