Barnaby Joyce is Australia’s new Deputy Prime Minister after being elected unopposed as the Nationals new leader in a late evening meeting of the Nationals party in Canberra.
His elevation, following the resignation of long-standing Nationals leader Warren Truss, sets up a whole new power dynamic in the government between the urbane Malcolm Turnbull as a Prime Minister popular in middle Australia and Mr Joyce, a happy-go-lucky populist deputy well-known and highly regarded as an authentic representative of regional Australia.
Mr Joyce described his promotion as an “awesome responsibility”.
“This responsibility is not taken lightly,” he said on Thursday evening, while praising his predecessor.
NSW senator and current Minister for Rural Health, Fiona Nash emerged from the exhaustive ballot as the first ever female deputy leader of the Nationals.
Her preferment has made for a unique situation in Australian history where all three main parties – the Liberal Party, the Nationals and the ALP – have female deputies.
Mr Joyce, who moved from a safe position in the Senate representing Queensland to successfully contest the last election as a New South Wales based lower house MP, is often described as the best retail politician in the country.
His partnership with Mr Turnbull is expected to draw attention as much for their philosophical differences as their areas of agreement.
Mr Joyce was the Coalition’s most outspoken critic of Mr Turnbull’s pro-emissions trading policy when the latter was opposition leader in 2009, ultimately encouraging Tony Abbott to mount a challenge.
Six years later, he will now fall in behind the man he opposed, as his loyal deputy.
Observers note where Mr Turnbull is pro free trade, Mr Joyce is more protectionist, and where Mr Turnbull is socially progressive on issues, the new National leader is conservative.
Ms Nash said her party would never lose sight of who the Nationals represent.
Mr Joyce said the first priority was to assert the Nationals’ rights as a Coalition partner, although he hinted that the party’s long-held beef of being under-represented in the cabinet may not be prosecuted given the proximity of the election.
However, in a sign of the “high-wire act” that his critics fear he might become, Mr Joyce wobbled at his very first appearance as leader, describing Labor’s position as “unfortunate” because they were “looking for a cliff to jump off.”
Mr Joyce, often characterised as a maverick, described himself as someone who works in “the collegiate form” – no doubt a comment designed to reassure those who worry about his tendency to “shoot from the lip” as one National admitted.