Australian deputy PM faces leadership crisis after minister’s resignation over scandal

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Australia’s governing Coalition has faced a leadership crisis after the agriculture minister stood down on Sunday over an ongoing sports grants saga.

Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie’s resignation came after weeks of pressure on the senator and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. An explosive report revealed that McKenzie ignored the advice of Sport Australia and instead took a 100-million-Australian-dollar (66.8 million U.S. dollars) sports grant scheme to boost the Coalition’s re-election chances.

It was later revealed that McKenzie had awarded a grant to a shooting club that she was a member of.

McKenzie, who formerly served as the minister for sport, said in a statement that she understood that “the community expects parliamentarians to abide by the highest standards.”

“I acknowledge that my failure to declare my memberships in a timely manner constituted a breach of the prime minister’s ministerial standards.”

In addition to leaving Cabinet, McKenzie also stood down as the deputy leader of the National Party, triggering a potential leadership crisis within the government.

The Coalition, formed by the Nationals and the Liberal Party led by Morrison, have conservative ideologies with the former focusing on regional Australia.

Under the terms of the Coalition agreement, the leader of the Liberals serves as the prime minister when the alliance is in government while the leader of the Nationals, currently Michael McCormack, is traditionally the deputy prime minister.

With members of the Nationals set to meet on Tuesday to decide on McKenzie’s replacement, former leader Barnaby Joyce on Monday announced his intention to depose McCormack.

Joyce, who stood down as the leader of the Nationals in February 2018, told Seven Network television that he would challenge McCormack if the leadership is put to a vote on Tuesday.

“I’ve been the leader before and under that we had the maximum number of cabinet ministers that we’ve ever had. We won more seats that we had in about 30 years,” he said.

“I believe if people want to investigate, if there should be a change, now’s the time to do it — two years before the next election.”

For a poll to be held on the leadership, a majority of party members must first vote to vacate the position.

McCormack would then be free to contest the poll, as would every other Nationals Member of Parliament (MP).

News Corp Australia reported that Joyce has the support of Nationals members who are concerned that the party is losing support in regional Australia under McCormack.

The Nationals won 16 seats in the lower house of Australia’s Parliament in the 2019 election, the same number as it won under Joyce’s leadership in 2016.

Responding to Joyce’s comments on Monday, McCormack said he had the “overwhelming” support of the party room.

“There is no vacancy for the leadership at the moment of the National Party. I have delivered for regional Australia,” he told reporters.

“I have the support of the National Party and nobody, nobody, has phoned me to say that I haven’t and nobody’s called me to say there is a spill.

“Barnaby Joyce has said he will stand if there is a spill called. No spill has been called and I don’t expect one to be.” Enditem

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