Michael McCormack declares himself a ‘fighter’ amid Nationals leadership turmoil | Australia news

The Nationals leader, Michael McCormack, has declared himself a “fighter” as he attempts to draw a line under the party’s internal ructions and stave off a second leadership challenge from the former leader Barnaby Joyce.

Amid ongoing infighting within the junior Coalition partner, McCormack claimed he retained the support of the prime minister, Scott Morrison, and the majority of his party room, but said only “time will tell” if he will face another challenge.

“You haven’t seen just how much of a fighter I am. I’m determined to continue to do the job that I have done for two years,” he said in an interview with Channel Nine on Wednesday.

“I’ve got the support of the majority of my party. I would like to think that my party – my entire party – would rally behind not me but the cause that I espouse, the cause the National party has stood up for for 100 years.

“I was sent here to do a job. I wasn’t sent here to lead a rabble, a destabilised rabble.”

The past week has seen a series of damaging stories about Nationals MPs from both the McCormack camp and the Joyce camp concerning travel entitlements and declarations.

The Courier Mail reported on Wednesday that McCormack’s office was planning to schedule an official party room meeting in Melbourne in March to coincide with a party celebration so that MPs could claim travel entitlements.

While a reportedly “unhappy” Morrison requested the potential claims be referred to the independent parliamentary expense authority for advice, McCormack said on Wednesday that no taxpayer funds would be used.

“Those sorts of organisation affairs are matters for the party at a management level, they’re a matter for the staff,” he said.

“Taxpayers won’t be funding the arrangement because I’ve made clear that members, if they want to attend, should pay for themselves.”

The former resources minister Matt Canavan, who quit cabinet to support Joyce in last week’s ballot, said the party would make sure taxpayer dollars were spent “appropriately”.

“This is an event in the future, it hasn’t happened, and my understanding is Michael, his office and the National party are getting advice on this issue, which is the right thing to do.”

On Tuesday, Guardian Australia reported that Canavan had failed to declare two properties on his Senate declaration of interests, something which the senator said was on the advice from the Senate given he had declared them in the previous parliament.

“If that was a mistake, it was an honest one, and of course I will clear that up as soon as I can,” Canavan said.

When asked if he was concerned that someone may be leaking against him, Canavan said: “If you want a friend in Canberra, get a dog. I haven’t got one yet.”

He also said that he would not “shy away” from raising policy issues in the party room, saying that was his job as a Queensland senator.

The regional health minister, Mark Coulton, described the latest bout of infighting as a “soap opera”.

“I can tell you for sure that the people I represent across regional Australia are far more concerned about … getting doctors into regional Australia,” Coulton said.

“They couldn’t give a rat’s toenail about the soap opera that’s being portrayed at the moment.”

On Tuesday, Morrison lectured MPs in the Coalition joint party room, urging unity after rogue Nationals MPs joined Labor to support Llew O’Brien to become deputy speaker, rather than the government’s pick Damian Drum.

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