“I say that because he acts in the interests of regional Australia and of the National Party and of strong and cohesive Coalition government. Serving those who elected him.”
The pair formed a friendship through their mutual love of the Hawks and dined together at Canberra’s Parliament House on Tuesday night with four-time premiership coach Alistair Clarkson in an intimate gathering with a handful of other Hawthorn-supporting MPs.
Mr McCormack survived a spill motion brought on by his predecessor Barnaby Joyce on the first parliamentary sitting day of the year, which also triggered the resignation of cabinet minister Matt Canavan and the resignation of Queensland MP Llew O’Brien from the party.
Mr Kennett said he believed Mr McCormack to be a man of “great personal values” who would end up “a great leader”, revealing he was in regular contact with him during the attacks on his leadership.
He said the Infrastructure Minister’s “strong values” and “commitment to his constituency” reminded him of previous Nationals cabinet ministers such as Peter Nixon and Ian Sinclair.
“I don’t need to give him advice, but I offer my support to him whenever he requires it,” Mr Kennett said.
“I stand by Michael, I see his values. He sees the value of working inside the tent rather than outside the tent, tearing the place down. He is a strong fighter for regional Australia and always has been.”
Mr Kennett, who has been a long-time critic of Barnaby Joyce, said the actions of the Nationals MPs who attempted to oust their leader this month were “particularly disturbing” because the attempted coup had come less than a year after an election win.
“Often you will find the quiet operator delivers the more profound outcomes,” he said.
“Michael is intelligent, works hard and is well connected. The idea that they could go back to what they had before would frighten plenty of people.”
Mr Kennett, who was Victorian premier from 1992 to 1999, ended his political career deeply unpopular in regional Victoria, with a voter backlash leading to an eight-year divorce between the Liberals and Nationals at a state level.
Mr McCormack said he had been “mates” with Mr Kennett for some time and confirmed the former premier had “reached out” with messages of support during recent attempts to oust him from his leadership position.
“We have common values, common goals and a good friendship. Always admired what he did and what he said,” Mr McCormack said.
“We do stay in contact. We have a common interest in good government which exceeds our passion for a football club.”
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra