Australia: Michael McCormack sworn in as deputy PM following sex scandal

Michael McCormack has been sworn in as Australia’s new deputy prime minister following Barnaby Joyce’s resignation. Joyce stepped down amid revelations of an affair with an ex-staffer and a sexual harassment claim.

Michael McCormack was elected Australia’s new deputy prime minister and leader of the Nationals party on Monday after winning a leadership contest triggered by the resignation of his scandal-hit predecessor, Barnaby Joyce.

McCormack, a former veterans’ affairs minister, was sworn in after defeating George Christensen in a Nationals’ party room vote in Canberra.

The National Party is the junior party in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s governing Liberal-National coalition.

“I want to make sure that people know that in me they will have a fighter,” said McCormack, who hails from the town of Wagga Wagga in rural New South Wales. “I have a huge challenge ahead of me.”

Prime Minister Turnbull, who had just arrived back in the country after a five-day visit to the US, said he was “delighted to welcome” McCormack’s appointment and that he looked forward “to working closely with him and the entire coalition team in the interests of all Australians.”

Joyce resigned Friday after an extramarital affair with a younger staffer and a sexual misconduct complaint

McCormack’s election came on the back of Joyce’s decision on Friday to quit the party following revelations sparked by a tabloid report that he had impregnated his former press secretary, who is 17 years his junior, during an extramarital affair.

The Nationals party later also confirmed that it had received a sexual harassment complaint against Joyce.

The scandal ruptured relations within the more than 70-year coalition between the two parties. Turnbull harshly criticized his deputy’s behavior and imposed a formal ban on sexual relations between ministers and staffers.

Joyce, in turn, dismissed Turnbull’s comments as “inept” and initially refused to step down as the Nationals’ leader, before eventually resigning on the back of the sexual harassment claim.

Critics question McCormack’s gay rights stance

While widely viewed as a safe pair of hands by his backers, McCormack’s previously held anti-gay views had been marked for criticism.

In 1993, while working as a local newspaper editor, McCormack wrote a column in which he described homosexuality as “sordid behavior.”

The new deputy prime minister has since apologized for the comments. In August, he voted in support of amending Australia’s Marriage Act to legalize gay marriage.

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