Band of ‘New Nationals’ ready to fight
LAST year, Matt Canavan was fighting. Fighting with green activists, fighting with city-centric views in the Prime Minister's office and frustrated with his own leader Michael McCormack.
Elation swept through his core after the Coalition's election win - not because it was about him keeping his job - but because in his mind he was doing the right thing to help those with muted voices in the regions be heard above the screeching doomsday sayers who were trying to cruel their jobs.
In the days after the poll, it was clear Canavan was tired. As some of the biggest fights and screaming matches would play out between him and Scott Morrison over energy, coal and a coal-fired generator in Collinsville in the months to come after May 18, Canavan become more fatigued. Having convictions are exhausting but they are also a driving force to get out of bed in the morning.
Other Cabinet Ministers privately remark about the hours of mind-numbing slide shows in Scott Morrison's Cabinet meetings (the most recent one last week went for six hours).
Some are also starting to complain that Morrison is not running a truly consultative Cabinet process - that some tough decisions are made by Morrison's trusted advisers - some of those not in Cabinet - and imposed upon on the rest of them.
They whinge but stay.
But while Canavan was aware of the privilege of a Cabinet position, unlike many others in Parliament, it is not his driving motivation.
His colleagues were legitimately shocked he resigned from his post, which would leave him with a paycut of about $150,000.
"Why did he do it? Can he afford it? Could he be convinced to come back?"
They know how potent he is politically. They know, but find it hard to win, that he helped with them the election.
In the lead-up to his resignation from Cabinet last week, he would reflect on how much fun he would have had throwing political bombs at Labor, the Greens and wokish Liberals if the Coalition lost, to be able to argue for things that he couldn't push for or say because of the bound of Cabinet solidarity.
Some of his most memorable political days were working for Barnaby Joyce and teaming-up with Mathias Cormann to nail Labor in Senate estimates.
Canavan, like Barnaby Joyce, is a renegade, an outsider at times, and a shit stirrer. That a Cabinet minister was daydreaming about being a backbencher would be akin to Queensland crossing their fingers NSW would win the State of Origin.
There was no doubt he thought Nationals Leader Michael McCormack was as effective as an umbrella in a category five cyclone.
On top of that, since the election he had spent only days at home with his wife Andrea and their five children. Canavan, a strong believer that boys needing to spend a lot of time with their father, was being torn between work and life more than ever before.
He knew the day would come when McCormack's position would be spilled but he did not think it would be on the first day of Parliament.
In the lead-up to the spill, Wide Bay MP Llew O'Brien was being called and calling colleagues about spilling McCormack's position.
Given the position of Deputy Nationals' Leader Bridget McKenzie was up for grabs after her resignation, it was clear McCormack would be collateral damage.
On the eve of the spill, Canavan gave no guarantees to anyone or O'Brien, saying he wanted to sleep on it.
When numbers were being done, some thought Canavan was going to go to water.
Canavan, a man riddled with contradictions, has always oslated between being politically ruthless and smoking the Catholic peace pipe with colleagues.
It was not unusual for Canavan to blow his top or be extremely frustrated with his own side only to later want to forgive and help them to succeed.
It is a trait that irks some of his colleagues; its politics not missionary work.
O'Brien, who had been egged on by colleagues to spill McCormack's position - including those who have been since rewarded in Cabinet (in fact one said they would walk with
O'Brien to McCormack's office to deliver the bad news) - could not believe Canavan did what he did - sacrifice his position to support Joyce and fight with him.
Yesterday, The Courier-Mail revealed Mr O'Brien had quit the Nationals on principle and Mr McCormack's failure to unite a divided team.
But it went further than that. Canavan told Joyce he could use his Cabinet position as a carrot to win party votes in the spill
Joyce, also politically principled, refused.
And this is now the biggest danger for Morrison. Canavan, Joyce, O'Brien and George Christensen - the man people like to make fun of but misunderstand his smarts and political radar - are all conviction politicians.
They cannot be bought. They do what they believe is right for their constituents.
Joyce does not need to be involved in another spill.
The "New Nationals" will act as a minor party and as a bloc to fight for policies they believe McCormack or Morrison have failed to deliver.
And this is in part Morrison's fault. He fails to see that a strong Nationals Party is a strong Coalition.