Who is Michael McCormack? The life and controversies of Australia’s new deputy PM

Michael McCormack is the new Nationals leader and deputy prime minister. Never heard of him? Never fear. We’ve compiled this handy assortment of tidbits and controversies to bring you up to speed.

The McCormack basics

From Wagga Wagga in New South Wales’ Riverina region, McCormack is a Nationals MP with a fairly typical history. He grew up on family farms at Marrar and Brucedale and still lives in the Riverina with his wife and three children. McCormack began working life as a cadet journalist with the local Wagga paper, the Daily Advertiser. McCormack shot through the editorial ranks to become editor at just 27.

McCormack first came to parliament in 2010, having fought off both Liberal and Labor candidates in his seat. It was unusual, in a sense. The Liberals hadn’t run a candidate in Riverina for 12 years. It didn’t change the result. McCormack won with a huge margin, taking the seat from the retiring Kay Hull, who McCormack previously worked for as campaign director.

He’s held various roles in the junior ministry since, including assistant defence minister, small business minister and assistant to the deputy prime minister. He is currently minister for veterans affairs and defence personnel.

Labor have been quick to point out McCormack is “the first non-farmer to lead the Nationals since Charles Blunt”. Blunt led the party in 1989 and 1990.

The homophobic editorial

In 1993, while still editor of the Daily Advertiser, McCormack penned a hugely controversial editorial about gay Australians and HIV/Aids. The editorial was profoundly homophobic and offensive. McCormack argued that “a week never goes by anymore that homosexuals and their sordid behaviour don’t become further entrenched in society”.

“Unfortunately gays are here and, if the disease their unnatural acts helped spread doesn’t wipe out humanity, they’re here to stay.”

McCormack soon apologised for the piece, which sparked several complaints to the Australian Press Council. He apologised again last year when, as small business minister, he had ministerial responsibility for the Australian Bureau of Statistics as it administered the postal vote. McCormack said in August that his views have changed in the decades since the editorial.

“I have grown and learned not only to tolerate but to accept all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, or any other trait or feature which makes each of us different and unique,” he said.

McCormack voted yes to same-sex marriage in parliament last year, following the will of his electorate.

The bungled census

McCormack held the small business portfolio during the notorious #CensusFail of 2016. He oversaw the attempts to move the census online, which failed spectacularly and led to significant outages, jeopardising the collection of vital population data.

McCormack was put in the invidious position of defending the government’s handling of the debacle, which Labor described as the “worst-run Census in the history of Australia”.

The knighting of Prince Philip

McCormack was not shy in making his views known about Tony Abbott’s knighting of Prince Philip in 2015. As a frontbencher in Abbott’s government, McCormack publicly complained that the decision had exposed the Coalition to ridicule. He urged Abbott to visit country pubs to learn what Australians really wanted from their politicians.

“It is out of touch and out of touch with modern Australian thinking,” he said.

“We’ve got a good story to tell but these sorts of decisions that are made … it just sets you on the back foot. It’s not going to affect my life, your life or anyone’s life.”

The comments showed McCormack’s willingness to publicly stand up to his Liberal colleagues. Will that attitude be reflected as leader? We’ll soon find out.

The small business roadshow

Last year, McCormack faced allegations that he was taking a small business roadshow primarily to Coalition seats. The roadshows are used to get feedback from small business but also to spruik government policy. They are attended by public servants from Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman and the Australian Tax Office.

Twenty-seven of the first 30-odd roadshow events were held in Liberal or National seats. Labor suggested Coalition voters were being rewarded with better access to services

Leadership ambitions

McCormack has stood for party leadership positions twice previously, narrowly losing the deputy role to Bridget McKenzie late last year.