I’ll MC gay wed­ding

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - AN­NIKA SMETHURST NA­TIONAL POL­I­TICS ED­I­TOR

AUS­TRALIA’S new Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Michael McCor­mack says he is a changed man.

The for­mer news­pa­per ed­i­tor, who last week re­placed Barn­aby Joyce as Na­tional Party leader, has spent years de­fend­ing a con­tro­ver­sial ar­ti­cle he penned in 1993 blam­ing ho­mo­sex­u­als for spread­ing AIDS. Speak­ing to The Sun­day Tele­graph, Mr McCor­mack said: “I have changed,” in­stead blam­ing the iconic Grim Reaper ads for fu­elling his be­liefs.

“We were be­ing bom­barded with gov­ern­ment ads warn­ing about the dan­gers of AIDS. It was scare­mon­ger­ing,” he said in de­fence of his con­tro­ver­sial piece. “Com­mu­nity at­ti­tudes were dif­fer­ent and they’ve changed.”

In a sign of his shift­ing views, the Deputy PM has even of­fered to MC a same­sex wed­ding for a gay rel­a­tive who plans to tie the knot.

Mr McCor­mack will have a huge task ahead of him as he tries to unite his splin­tered party. In the past 18 months the ju­nior Coali­tion part­ner has gone from elec­tion-win­ning ma­chine to na­tional laugh­ing stock.

The cit­i­zen­ship scan­dals saw then-leader Barn­aby Joyce and his deputy Fiona Nash dis­qual­i­fied from Par­lia­ment. A group of Na­tion­als MPs then launched a par­lia­men­tary re­volt forc­ing Mal­colm Turn­bull to adopt a bank­ing royal com­mis­sion or risk los­ing sup­port. The con­ser­va­tive party then faced fur­ther hu­mil­i­a­tion when Mr Joyce stood down fol­low­ing the col­lapse of his mar­riage and the pend­ing ar­rival of a new baby with a for­mer staffer.

Mr McCor­mack ad­mits it has been one of the most “try­ing times in the party’s his­tory”.

“It has been dif­fi­cult, there is no ques­tion about that,” he said.

“No one can take any­thing back that they have said or done; it’s time to draw a line un­der it and move on ... we will be a uni­fied team.”

While Mr Joyce has re­fused to rule out a come­back, Mr McCor­mack poured cold wa­ter on the idea, in­stead re­ward­ing back­ers — Dar­ren Ch­ester and Keith Pitt — with pro­mo­tions in the lat­est reshuf­fle.

“I think that’s get­ting a bit too far ahead of ourselves,” Mr McCor­mack said when asked whether there would be room for Mr Joyce on the front­bench.

Mr McCor­mack knows the dam­age a ca­reer in pol­i­tics can have on fam­i­lies. He has watched Mr Joyce’s po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal life im­plode fol­low­ing an af­fair with for­mer staffer Vicki Cam­pion.

Boozy nights away from home and a busy work sched­ule have de­stroyed count­less po­lit­i­cal part­ner­ships, but Mr McCor­mack, a tee­to­taller, says he will al­ways pri­ori­tise his fam­ily. “Once pol­i­tics goes, I still want to have my wife and chil­dren,” Mr McCor­mack said.

“At the end of the day, you might be the Deputy Prime Mi­nis- ter, t you might have a very im­por­tant of­fice, but you are still a hus­band, you are still a dad and you have to make time for fam­ily.”

When the NSW MP first ar­rived in Can­berra in 2010, speaker Harry Jenk­ins of­fered frank ad­vice to the co­hort of La­bor and Coali­tion MPs em­bark­ing on a ca­reer in fed­eral pol­i­tics.

“We were told the di­vorce rate among politi­cians is some­where around 80 per cent and I cer­tainly didn’t want that to hap­pen,” Mr McCor­mack said.

For the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment, which is des­per­ately look­ing to avoid fur­ther scan­dal, Mr McCor­mack is con­sid­ered a safe pair of hands. The 53-year-old has been mar­ried to wife Cather­ine for 31 years. The pair started dat­ing when he was just 18 and he would col­lect her from high school in his blue Holden Gem­ini. They have three chil­dren Ni­cholas, Ge­orgina and Alexan­der.

But in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles, his rise to Deputy PM has been de­scribed as his “Steven Brad­bury mo­ment”.

Rem­i­nis­cent of the Aussie speed skater who clinched Olympic gold in 2002 when he was the only man left stand­ing at the fin­ish line, Mr McCor­mack — a rel­a­tively un­known MP from Wagga Wagga — now holds the sec­ond high­est job in Aus­tralia.

He is viewed by de­trac­tors as ill-pre­pared for of­fice, but it was a 1976 trip to the na­tion’s cap­i­tal c with Hen­schke Pri­mary School that sparked his drive d to­wards po­lit­i­cal p lead­er­ship. At just 12, McCor­mack jumped off the bus at Old O Par­lia­ment House, where then­prime min­is­ter Mal­colm Fraser was ad­dress­ing d the me­dia. m “I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘gee that’d be a pretty good job,’ ” he said.

ON TURN­BULL “We are dif­fer­ent peo­ple but we need to work to­gether .”

ON THE PRO­POSED INDIGE­NOUS VOICE MODEL “We need to have peo­ple in par­lia­ment elected on merit. ”

AIDS ED­I­TO­RIAL ON HIS CON­TRO­VER­SIAL “We were be­ing bom­barded with ers gov­ern­ment ads warn­ing about the dang of AIDs.Itw as scare­mon­ger­ing .”

SAME SEX MAR­RIAGE “It’s law and it’ s the 21s t cen­tury .”

INDIGE­NOUS CON­STI­TU­TIONAL RECOG­NI­TION “I have al­ways been in favour ... it’ s the right thing to do .”

Picture: Kym Smith

A three-year-old Michael McCor­mack and dad Lance in 1968. New leader of the Na­tional Party and Deputy PM Michael McCor­mack and wife Cather­ine.

Barn­aby Joyce and his part­ner Vikki Cam­pion at Can­berra air­port. ON JO YCE RE­TURN­ING T O THE FRONT­BENCH “I think that’ s g et­ting a bit too f ar ahead of ourselves.” ON BE COM­ING A REPUB­LIC “If it ain ’t brok e, don’t f ix it. ”

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