Turnbull government reshuffle: Barnaby Joyce denies Nationals cabinet axings were 'payback'
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Turnbull government reshuffle: Barnaby Joyce denies Nationals cabinet axings were 'payback'

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has denied "payback" motivated his cabinet decisions as the infighting in the Nationals continues to overshadow Malcolm Turnbull's ministerial reset.

Tuesday's reshuffle saw five people appointed to the 23-member cabinet, including rookie Queensland federal MPs David Littleproud​ and John McVeigh​, in a move designed to woo voters in the key battleground state.

But the rapid promotion of Mr Littleproud and Mr McVeigh, who were both elected for the first time just 18 months ago, came at the expense of the now-former infrastructure minister Darren Chester and assistant minister for trade Keith Pitt.

The ministerial rearrangement has infuriated some Nationals MPs, who accused Mr Joyce of taking revenge on Mr Chester for supporting Bridget McKenzie in her successful bid to become the Nationals deputy leader.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and the now former infrastructure minister Darren Chester in Question Time in October.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and the now former infrastructure minister Darren Chester in Question Time in October.

Photo: Andrew Meares
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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," Mr Joyce told Sky News.

Mr Joyce maintained selection for cabinet was made on the grounds of age and geographical representation.

"I think we've got an incredible talent pool. In any process, there is going to be people who are rightly upset. We have an immense pool of people who have the capacity to be cabinet ministers, without a shadow of a doubt. And I'm very proud of that in the National Party. And we have a cabinet group now that has people in their 30s, in their early 40s, late 40s, I'm 50 and Nigel [Scullion] is in his 60s," Mr Joyce told ABC television.

"And if you're saying in any reshuffle, through the history of the Australian Parliament, there are going to be people who are upset, that's hardly a remarkable statement."

Mr Turnbull's reshuffle was overshadowed by the dumping of Mr Chester and the reasons behind it.

Some MPs were convinced it was because Mr Chester, who had attracted no criticism for his performance as minister, supported Senator McKenzie's leadership bid while others said it was because they were both from Victoria and the Nationals' vote in Victoria did not entitle it to two cabinet positions.

Senator McKenzie was entitled to her cabinet position when she became deputy leader.

A gracious 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.

"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," he said on Tuesday.

Mr Joyce's cabinet picks have turned what was supposed to be a routine ministerial reshuffle into a political headache for Mr Turnbull.

It caps off a year in which Mr Joyce had to fight a byelection after the High Court ruled him ineligible to sit in Parliament, and outspoken backbenchers such as George Christensen and Barry O'Sullivan forced Mr Turnbull's hand on a banking royal commission.

Mr Joyce, however, denied there was a discipline problem in the Nationals, saying the junior Coalition partner had been doing "an excellent job".

"When you talk about ill-discipline, because we got a banking royal commission up, it's something our constituents want. I'm quite happy we got a banking royal commission up. It shows we have the capacity to listen to our constituency, as we should, and deliver for them, as we did. And, you know, that's a good outcome," he said.

The new ministry will be sworn in by the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, on Wednesday morning.

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