Queensland MPs push for peace as split fears rumble the Nationals
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Queensland MPs push for peace as split fears rumble the Nationals

Senior Coalition MPs have dismissed the idea of Queensland's Liberal National Party formally breaking away to form a new grouping in Canberra, despite suggestions dumped junior minister Keith Pitt could lead such a move.

In a stand against treasonous talk, Nationals MP Darren Chester on Wednesday publicly responded to being booted from cabinet by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, calling on his colleagues to stop criticising each other and unite after a "ratty" few months and "poor discipline".

Mr Pitt would not on Wednesday rule out setting up a separate LNP party room next year, and referred to an earlier statement that his priority "as it always has been – is to serve the people of Hinkler. They have supported me and the Liberal National Party in the past two elections, and I intend to ensure I continue to deliver for the people of my electorate."

Three of Mr Pitt's Queensland colleagues – Ian Macdonald, Scott Buchholz​ and Llew O'Brien​ – told Fairfax Media they did not want their colleague to quit the Nationals' party room and establish a separate LNP grouping.

Keith Pitt with Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove at his swearing in as assistant minister for trade, investment and tourism in 2016.

Keith Pitt with Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove at his swearing in as assistant minister for trade, investment and tourism in 2016.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Junior minister Michael McCormack and Mr Chester also called for Mr Pitt to stay within the Nationals' fold, while Mr Joyce – in clean up mode after the controversial decisions – denied the demotions and promotion of rookie MP David Littleproud were political payback.

There are 26 MPs in Queensland's Liberal National Party, some caucusing with the Liberal Party and some with the Nationals in Canberra, compared to 21 members of the Nationals acoss the country.

​If the LNP members sat as a bloc it would be the second largest conservative party in Parliament and would be positioned to demand the deputy prime ministership and a swag of cabinet seats for Queensland.

But Mr Buchholz, a National who sits in the Liberal party room in Canberra, rebuked Mr Pitt for considering a separate LNP grouping in Canberra. The idea was, he said, a "little chestnut that comes out whenever Queensland thinks it is being done over".

Nationals MPs in the ministry pose with leader Barnaby Joyce (centre) after Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony at Government House.

Nationals MPs in the ministry pose with leader Barnaby Joyce (centre) after Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony at Government House.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

"We need more discipline and to back ourselves, disgruntled colleagues need to stop backgrounding journalists. When people miss out, rather than look at their own ability and why it happened, it's easy to just blame the system," he said, in a pointed message to Mr Pitt.

Senator Macdonald, a long time advocate of an LNP grouping in Canberra, said "had the reshuffle not been as good for Queensland [granting it an extra cabinet post] as I think it was then I would have been arguing for it now".

Happier times: Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and then minister Darren Chester in October.

Happier times: Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and then minister Darren Chester in October.

Photo: Andrew Meares

He said the demotion of Mr Chester was "strange" and that he was disappointed for Mr Pitt, but praised the promotion of regional Liberals Dan Tehan, John McVeigh and Angus Taylor.

The axing of Mr Chester and Mr Pitt, who both backed Bridget McKenzie instead of Mr Joyce's choice for deputy leader Matt Canavan, prompted an angry backlash at the Deputy Prime Minister.

Illustration: Matt Golding

Illustration: Matt Golding

Mr Chester said he was disappointed with his demotion, which Mr Joyce has said was to get the geographic balance right, but backed him as party leader while also calling for greater discipline.

"We haven't got ourselves tight as a team and concentrated on the issues that matter to regional Australia. We have been freelancing too much and it has got to stop," he told Sky News.

A senior member of the cabinet described Tuesday's reshuffle as a disaster of Mr Joyce's making because "Barnaby always gets his way".

Mr Joyce did back-to-back television interviews on Wednesday morning in an attempt to explain Mr Chester's demotion.

"There is no payback, there is no payback in trying to get geographic representation right," he told Sky News.

James Massola is south-east Asia correspondent, based in Jakarta. He was previously chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in Canberra. He has been a Walkley and Quills finalist on three occasions.

Stephanie Peatling is a senior writer for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House