NATALIE BARR, HOST: Thanks Kochie. Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack's leadership of the Nationals is under threat. As speculation grows, he could be challenged at today's party room meeting. Backbencher and former leader, Barnaby Joyce, is thought to have up to 10 of the 11 votes required for a majority. While Deputy Leader, David Littleproud, could also be in the mix in the event of a no confidence motion against McCormack. For more I'm joined by Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce himself and Labor MP, Joel Fitzgibbon. Good morning to Barnaby. Morning to you, Michael...
BARNABY JOYCE, MEMBER FOR NEW ENGLAND: I can see what's happening here. You've got Joel, Canberra, Barnaby fighting in the kitchen somewhere.
BARR: Does look like it. Michael McCormack is doing a pretty good job, don't you think, Barnaby?
JOYCE: I think it's, Mike's doing the best job he can. I think Mike has been – he’s a good bloke and he's working as hard as he can. The issue is in the next election, and this is for the National Party as well as the Coalition in general. It's going to be won in three places – the Hunter Valley where Joel is, in Central Queensland and in and around Darwin, that's it. And we've got to make sure, and Michael has got to make sure that we are clearly identifiable in our policy structure in such a way that we can win it, not just for the Nationals, but for the Coalition.
BARR: So are you happy with his leadership?
JOYCE: There's some things, look, there are times where I think we could do things differently, Nat. There's no doubt about that. But that's the decision for the party room. And, you know, whatever they – I've read articles this weekend, which is so far ahead of the show. They're entertaining, they're just not correct. But, you know, I'm not going to start delving into, you know, what is National Party business, they can have that, they can make those discussions and decisions themselves...
BARR: So Barnaby, if there's a spill today, if there is a spill today, will you put your hand up?
JOYCE: Well, there's no, there's no prospect of a spill at this point in time. So, there's no one, so I'll just let, I'll let that issue arise. I mean, how about, Nat, if you were offered a lot more money to work for Channel 9, would you work for them?
BARR: Well, it's not about me, it's about Barnaby today. And you know, I'm signed up and I don't know whether you are and I've been a journalist for long enough that I know that when the headlines scream dead man walking towards the end of the road and there's a photo of a leader, there's trouble. So, if there was a spill, would you put your hand up today.
JOYCE: Well if that happens. Ask me if it happens. But it hasn't happened.
BARR: So, the word on the street is you have 10 of the 11 votes.
JOYCE: Nat, that is something I have no idea about, okay. And, Nat I'll give you one thing – unless you're sure of the numbers, be very, very carefully. There you go.
BARR: So, they're all counting in a backroom and no one's talking to you?
JOYCE: I'll tell you what, this is how politics works, and Joel will agree with me with this, the only person you can believe when you're counting numbers, the person who says I wouldn't vote for you if you're the last person alive on earth. That person you can believe.
BARR: Are you telling me that politicians aren't telling the truth even behind the scenes, Barnaby?
JOYCE: That is precisely what I'm telling you. I'm not even being vague about it.
BARR: Okay. News.com is reporting that you're within one vote, but women don't want you. Are women your problem?
JOYCE: Well, that's a question for you, Nat. Am I a problem to you?
BARR: Okay. Joel, what are you hearing you're in there...
JOYCE: ... Why didn't you answer the question, Nat? Come on.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Well, Nat, that I'm hearing lots and it's not just talk on the street, it's talk around Parliament House. It's on for young and old here. I don't have a vote in this contest. But I'll back the bloke who's prepared to take on Scott Morrison and do something about this vaccination and quarantining debacle. You know, the National Party used to stand up to the Liberals, that was their only worth. And people like Black Jack McEwen, Doug Anthony, Tim Fisher would be rolling in their grave if they saw the way the National Party these days, is so compliant to the Liberal Party, they just take their pay rises and their big offices and say yes, sir, no, sir, three bags full, sir. So, if Barnaby is putting a proposition that he'll stand up to Scott Morrison, then I'm inclined to give him every best wish. Having said that, I, you know, I feel for Michael McCormack, he's doing his very, very best and it would be a shame to have all this disruption at a time when we should be focused on vaccination.
BARR: So Barnaby, you need to step up against the vaccine rollout. Mistakes, obviously, according to Joel. Is that actually a good point?
JOYCE: Just so your viewers know, they gave us three topics. I knew were only going to be discussing one of them. But, this is the reality. We had two new cases in New South Wales. You know, that's not good, but no one's dying. That’s, and that's really important, and that is the ultimate proof of success, that people aren't losing their lives, and Australia has been incredibly good at that. And this is an issue which, the vaccine is rolling out, people are just arguing about where the vaccine rollout which is happening is up to, but no one's dying. So we're winning, and that's good policy.
BARR: We have actually had two deaths from, related to the blood clots, from the AstraZeneca vaccine.
JOYCE: One of them was in Tamworth, Nat. I understand that clearly, right...
BARR: ... So that is...
JOYCE: ... That's a tragedy. We also have people who die of the flu vaccine, and that's a tragedy as well.
JOYCE: But we've got to make sure that we clearly understand – last night, we made the news because two peak, two new cases of Covid. In other countries, they're talking about 10,000 people dying.
BARR: Okay, so how do we, how do we get – we've got this problem with AstraZeneca now, where we've raised the age to 60, and now we've got GP's saying people are backing out of it. People don't want their second dose, people don't even want their first, so what do we do here?
JOYCE: Well, we sell them a message that life inherently has, any vaccine, there's an inherent risk, but it's so, so small. I'll tell you, if you want a big risk, this is what you do - don't get vaccinated and wait for the disease to break out again. Then you have got a fair dinkum risk. You can really, you can really take that risk to the racetrack with you, because it's big time. So, get vaccinated. And I also talk to heaps of people who have had AstraZeneca vaccine and the fact that I'm talking to them means that it must be pretty successful, because they're all standing upright.
BARR: Joel, James Merlino, the acting Victorian Premier has labelled this role a shambles.
FITZGIBBON: Well, Nat, I received the greatest compliment in a long time last Thursday, when I was told I was too young for something. I was told that at 59 I can't now get AZ, but I have all these constituents 60-plus, who are now very, very concerned, because they've already had one injection, and they're worried about evolving medical advice. And they're told, of course, AstraZeneca is the only option available to them. Now my job is in part to try to build public confidence in AstraZeneca. But it's pretty hard when they keep changing the rules. First of all, it was alright to get AZ if you're over 50, now you've got to be over 60 and a lot of people are wondering whether next week it'll be over 70. We should have had more options, Nat. That's the basis for the problem and the challenge we now face.
BARR: Yep. And they're coming, as the Health Minister says, but not until September, October. Thank you very much. Have a fun day, everyone.
FITZGIBBON: For sure.
BARR: See you next week.