Matt Canavan says Barnaby Joyce could return as leader

Matt Canavan says Barnaby Joyce could return as leader

Barnaby Joyce could return as deputy prime minister and is ‘still a leader’ in the Nationals party room, a staunch ally says.

Mr Joyce has endured a prickly relationship with his successor Michael McCormack since resigning as leader three years ago, including a failed leadership challenge last year.

Nationals senator Matt Canavan has told Sky News although he “couldn’t speak for Barnaby”, he left the door open for him to return to the leadership.

“I think at some point he could be leader again. He still is a leader in terms of the political debate. Look, you never say never in politics,” he said.

Mr Joyce resigned as leader in 2018, saying the move was necessary to “clear the air” after revelations of his affair with a staffer and an allegation of sexual harassment.

He has used the freedom afforded by the backbench to take aim at Mr McCormack, warning simmering tensions behind the scene “did not bode well for any relationship”.

He also lashed the Coalition as “no marriage of equals” in January, comments his leader publicly played down.

Mr Canavan warned against viewing “everything through the leadership prism”, saying his former leader was enjoying his current role.

“I think he’s moved on a bit, and getting on with his job as a member of the New England,” he said.

“He’s got the same sort of freedom as a backbencher, and obviously has a willingness to use that freedom.

“I think we’re playing a very useful role in pushing these debates and getting outcomes.”

Mr Joyce attempted to topple Mr McCormack in February last year, arguing he would give the party its best chance at the next election.

But despite Mr Joyce’s commitment to back the leadership team after losing the ballot, rumblings of discontent have continued.

Mr Canavan played a crucial role in the spill, resigning from the frontbench to support Mr Joyce’s bid.

Mr McCormack dismissed calls to return him to a cabinet role after winning the ballot.