2 Australian minor parties to elect new leaders

A second Australian Cabinet minister resigned in as many days on Monday as a push within government ranks gathered strength to oust the deputy prime minister

CANBERRA, Australia -- A second Australian Cabinet minister resigned in as many days on Monday as a push within government ranks gathered strength to oust the deputy prime minister.

The move to replace Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack as leader of the conservative government's junior coalition partner, the Nationals, continues a decade of extraordinary political instability in Australian politics.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce announced on Monday he would challenge his successor in a leadership ballot of Nationals lawmakers on Tuesday.

Resources Minister Matthew Canavan later resigned from the Cabinet because he intended to back Joyce in the ballot against the party leader. Hours earlier, Canavan had publicly backed McCormack's leadership.

"We need a bulldog. We need a fighter," Canavan told reporters, referring to Joyce.

Joyce has not been a Cabinet minister since he quit as Nationals leader in 2018 over controversy surrounding a child he had with a former staffer and allegations that he had sexually harassed another woman.

The scandals tarnished the reputation of a politician who had campaigned on family values.

But some in the party are disgruntled that McCormack has failed to get a better deal for the Nationals' rural constituents in the past two years.

While prime ministers have been replaced eight times since 2007, the Nationals have only ousted their own leader once, in 1989.

McCormack said he was confident of defeating any challenger. Joyce is the first to announce his intention to challenge but might not be the only contender.

“I am the leader of the party. I have the party's support and, moreover, I'm out there delivering for regional Australians,” McCormack told reporters.

McCormack's internal enemies are capitalizing on the resignation on Sunday of Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie. The Nationals deputy leader resigned from the Cabinet for breaching ministerial rules by failing to declare she was a member of a gun club to which she gave a government grant of 36,000 Australian dollars ($24,100).

Her resignation ensured that her party colleagues would meet on Tuesday to elect a new deputy leader.

McCormack's enemies will ensure that the meeting also considers changing the leader.

Whoever leads the Nationals becomes deputy prime minister and acts as prime minister when Prime Minister Scott Morrison is overseas.

Both the Nationals leader and deputy leader are also guaranteed seats in the Cabinet.

The minor Australian Greens party will also choose a new leadership team on Tuesday after party leader Richard Di Natale announced his surprise resignation on Monday.