Nationals in-fighting overshadows cabinet reshuffle

DUMPED: Barnaby Joyce made the call to demote Darren Chester. Photo: Andrew Meares
DUMPED: Barnaby Joyce made the call to demote Darren Chester. Photo: Andrew Meares

NEW England MP Barnaby Joyce has swapped agriculture and water for transport and infrastructure in the cabinet reshuffle.

But the reshuffle has been overshadowed by the decision to dump Nationals’ MP Darren Chester from the infrastructure and transport portfolio, which some say is due to internal party politics.

Behind closed doors, the decision has infuriated Nationals MPs, as Mr Chester had attracted no criticism for his performance as minister.

Some are suggesting the dumping is revenge – Mr Chester supported Senator Bridget McKenzie’s National Party deputy leadership bid rather than backing Mr Joyce’s pick of senator Matt Canavan. 

Nats MP Keith Pitt also supported Senator McKenzie and was dropped from his role of assistant minister for tourism and trade.

However, Mr Joyce says the decision to demote Mr Chester had nothing to do in-party politics.

“There is no payback, there is no payback in trying to get geographic representation right,” Mr Joyce told Sky News.

Mr Chester said being dumped was “character building” and that he had had several conversations with the Prime Minister and Mr Joyce before the reshuffle was announced.

He said being dumped was “character building” and that he had had several conversations with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Mr Joyce before the reshuffle was announced.

“Barnaby Joyce offered me an assistant minister role as they call them these days. I chose to reflect on that overnight and advised both the PM and the Deputy PM I didn't intend to take that offer,” Mr Chester said.

HAPPIER TIMES: Darren Chester campaigning for Barnaby Joyce in the recent by-election. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

HAPPIER TIMES: Darren Chester campaigning for Barnaby Joyce in the recent by-election. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The agriculture and water portfolio has been picked up by Queensland Nationals MP David Littleproud, who was first elected 18 months ago.

One of Mr Joyce’s main responsibilities in his new role as Transport and Infrastructure Minister will be the $10 billion Inland Rail project.

The reshuffle saw five people appointed to the 23-member cabinet, including another rookie Queensland federal MP John McVeigh​. Mr Littleproud and Mr McVeigh’s appointments are believed to be a move designed to woo voters in the key battleground state.

The reshuffle caps off a rapid rise for Senator McKenzie, who was recently elected as deputy leader of the Nationals. She’s since leapfrogged from the backbench to cabinet as Minister for Sport, Rural Health and Regional Communications.

The Leader approached Mr Joyce for a comment.

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