- For the full profile, read Saturday's Good Weekend
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says he is grooming maverick north Queensland backbencher George Christensen for a future as a cabinet minister.
Mr Christensen - who has made controversial statements on Muslim immigration, the Safe Schools anti-homophobia program and climate science - has caused headaches for the Turnbull government by threatening to cross the floor on issues such as superannuation and a banking royal commission.
Mr Joyce spoke to Fairfax Media as part of a profile of Mr Christensen in Saturday's Good Weekend magazine. The cover photo features Mr Christensen displaying his Coptic arm tattoo of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, and holding the Nationals stockwhip, which has been used since 1917. On Wednesday, when asylum seeker advocates loudly protested during question time, he tweeted a photo of the whip and the caption: "Say hello to my little friend, hippies".
Mr Joyce said he appointed Mr Christensen to the key role of chief Nationals whip after the July election because he believes he has "great potential" to advance in politics.
"I think at some stage in the future he is more than capable of running a portfolio and doing it well," Mr Joyce said.
"There's no reason at all he couldn't be a cabinet minister. Now that's not imminent. But does he have the ability to run a department? Yes."
Mr Joyce declined to criticise his colleague for speaking out against party policy.
"I'm not going to be a hypocrite," he said, pointing to his own experience crossing the floor while a backbencher in the Senate.
Describing Mr Christensen as "authentic", "well-read" and "intelligent", Mr Joyce said: "I like the fact Parliament has a George Christensen in it."
In the profile, Mr Christensen speaks about his conversion from Catholicism to Orthodoxy, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's leadership and the implications of Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential election for Australian politics.
He also reveals doubts about whether he should remain in the Liberal National Party given his views are far to the right of many colleagues.
"There have been some dark days where I have thought, 'am I in the right political party?'," he said.
I like the fact Parliament has a George Christensen in it
A defection would throw the government into chaos given it holds a bare majority of 76 seats in the House of Representatives. But Mr Christensen said he has decided to remain in the Coalition because he can exert more influence from within government than outside.
However, Mr Christensen openly criticises several Coalition policies, including the the government's Direct Action climate change policy designed to reduce carbon emissions.
He described the scheme, which pays farmers and businesses to stop polluting, as an "outrageous waste of money".
"I accept it but I don't have to agree with it," he said.
Mr Christensen, whose electorate of Dawson includes some of the most visited parts of the Great Barrier Reef, is one of the strongest climate sceptics in Parliament.
He also criticises the government's decision to increase the tobacco excise in the May budget, describing it as "a lazy government's way of raising money"
Mr Christensen also says he would like to abolish Australia's foreign aid program, worth $3.8 billion a year.
"It's very hard to argue for spending restraint at home when we are spending money overseas," he said.
"Unless it's a natural disaster of great proportion in our region it's hard to justify one dollar going overseas."
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