MEMBER for Orange Andrew Gee is playing his cards close to his chest as federal Nationals MPs prepare to meet on Monday to elect a new leader.
Barnaby Joyce ended weeks of speculation on Friday when he finally resigned as federal leader of the party following mounting pressure over his relationship with a former staffer, questions over the use of taxpayer money to find a new job for his new partner, and allegations of indecent behaviour.
Despite direct questioning from Fairfax Media on Friday, Mr Gee would not be drawn on whether he was considering entering the ballot for the party leadership or who he would be supporting in the vote.
Online bookmakers Sportsbet have created a market for the Nationals’ leadership battle, with Mr Gee rated a long shot to assume the Deputy Prime Ministership at $41.
Member for Parkes Mark Coulton is also at $41.
Riverina MP Michael McCormack remains favourite to take the party’s reins – as of Sunday he was paying $1.40 in the Sportsbet market – and has attracted public support among his party colleagues.
He threw his hat into the leadership ring on Friday, one of few to officially announce his candidacy.
“On Monday, I will ask my colleagues to back me for the leadership of the Nationals, so together we can work to grow local economies, increase local opportunities and create local jobs,” Mr McCormack said.
“I want to acknowledge Barnaby Joyce for his leadership over the past two years and thank him for being a true advocate for the needs of regional areas. His legacy will endure. I wish him well for the future.”
Asked whether Mr McCormack, the Minister for Veterans Affairs, would make a good Nationals leader, Senator John Williams said: “I think he would”.
“Michael’s always been a good mate of mine, works hard, well presented, and does his job well, but there’s probably several who could do the same job.”
According to Charles Sturt University lecturer Dominic O’Sullivan, member for Lyne David Gillespie is another possible contender, but his bid could be hampered by his current involvement a High Court case over the ownership of a post office agency.
Member for Gippsland Darren Chester, who was demoted in a recent reshuffle is another contender, Professor O’Sullivan said, along with member for Maranoa Darren Littleproud.