A former regional newspaper editor, Michael McCormack, has been chosen as Australia’s new deputy prime minister.

He replaces Barnaby Joyce as leader of the Nationals, the governing coalition’s junior partner.

Mr Joyce resigned on Friday over his affair with a former staffer, after holding the post for two years.

Barnaby Joyce leans away from Michael McCormack in parliament
Michael McCormack (R) replaces Barnaby Joyce (L) as deputy prime minister

Mr McCormack, a relatively unknown conservative, has attracted criticism for a column he wrote in 1993 in which he described homosexuality as “sordid”.

As leader of the Nationals, he automatically becomes deputy to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – who heads the Liberal Party.

Mr McCormack was elected by Nationals MPs ahead of one other contender, George Christensen.

He said Mr Joyce, who is now a backbencher, had been an “outstanding leader”.

“His service to our party and to our nation will never be diminished. His legacy will endure,” Mr McCormack told reporters on Monday.

Mr Joyce stepped down following questions over his relationship with media adviser Vikki Campion, and an allegation sexual harassment by another woman. He called the latter complaint “spurious and defamatory”.

The New South Wales MP enters the position with a lower profile than his outspoken predecessor, who famously once threatened to kill Johnny Depp’s dogs.

Raised on a farm, Mr McCormack calls himself a passionate advocate for rural Australia and first entered parliament in 2010.

He currently oversees ministerial portfolios in small business and veterans’ affairs. His new role will see him elevated to Cabinet.

His rise has prompted renewed scrutiny of a controversial editorial he wrote 25 years ago as editor of the Daily Advertiser, a small newspaper based in the town of Wagga Wagga.

“Unfortunately gays are here and, if the disease their unnatural acts helped spread doesn’t wipe out humanity, they’re here to stay,” he wrote in 1993.

Mr McCormack has since apologised for the piece and said his views have changed.

Although long opposed to same-sex marriage, he voted in line with the majority of his constituents to support its legalisation in Australia last year.