Nationals leader David Littleproud will head into the first sitting week of the 47th Parliament promising an assertive junior Coalition party able to evolve with the community and science, but will continue on as a "rural conscience" with a "purity of purpose".
Reading and reflecting on the May 21 election loss, particularly over major issues such as leadership and climate change action, is ongoing and testing. Now as the business of parliament begins, Mr Littleproud is pushing on with the business of opposition - seeking cracks in Labor's border management of foot and mouth disease and jumping all in with a fresh, post-election interest in nuclear power.
In an interview with ACM, the Queenslander who replaced Barnaby Joyce as leader is declaring the National's principles and values are not about to change, but something is coming for the party's messaging to regional Australia. He admits the Nationals need to seriously engage with women and young people to seek power again.
"The only change will be the style," Mr Littleproud said. "One of the things we probably didn't do well was explaining 'the why', and explain the why of some of our policy settings and why we did that."
"And we're not some archaic organisation. We actually are quite progressive in terms of some of the stances that we've taken."
When pressed on progressive policies, the Nationals leader cites same-sex marriage support when it came to a vote and helping farmers tackle climate change through activities on the land. Now he's pointing to backing - ahead of the Liberals and most renewable energy proponents - for small-scale modular nuclear to reduce carbon emissions.
He wants ideology or "mindsets" put aside. "Let's have the leadership to be able to put our hand out and say, 'let's lay down our arms on these things' and form new policy based on science and facts."
But would he host a nuclear power plant in his federal seat of Maranoa? "Possibly, possibly" is the response.
And why now? Where was this nuclear enthusiasm while in government?
"That is asked all the time. What did we do for nine years? Well, the Nationals have always been there. But we were part of a Coalition," Mr Littleproud explained.
"We want to be constructive and I intend to be constructive. I hold the government to account.
"And so we'll work for the betterment. I'm not going to wait for good policy for three years to try and own it myself. Because, if it is good policy, it should come in now. If it's a good policy now, then we need to support it now. Not wait."
Expect to see an assertive new Nationals in the 47th Parliament. While the Liberals suffered an electoral bruising, particularly to its more moderate members, the Nationals held all its seats, although 11 of its 16 MPs suffered negative swings in their primary vote.
Mr Joyce made way for the leadership team of Mr Littleproud and new deputy Perin Davey, while the controversial voice of George Christensen has moved on from the parliamentary party after his retirement from the seat of Dawson and his failed run for One Nation.
Mr Christensen was a loud, restrained voice for the unvaccinated 'freedom' movement. The Nationals leader promises he has no tolerance for dangerous messages.
"I was one of the first ones to walk up and to call George out for all that he had done. It was irresponsible," Mr Littleproud said. "And I said that at the time and we'll say it again. But you know, that's what leadership is sometimes."
So, in debating climate change and new coal mines, Mr Littleproud said there is room in the Nationals for everyone and he will celebrate and respect a diversity of views including from Queensland Senator Matt Canavan, a strident coal supporter.
It is all a question of leadership and being a "weathervane" for regional and remote areas.
"That's making sure that the voices that are selling the message are stronger and louder, in making sure that articulation ... my role is to make sure that's clearly enunciated. What the values are. how we achieve that," he said.
"So we all bring a different style of leadership, but the values and principles will remain the same.
"Bringing common sense to Canberra will remain the same. And being that rural conscience here in Canberra. We have a purity of purpose. We don't have to compromise on our values."
But the Nationals leader knows the party needs to better connect with women and young regional people.
He points to half his shadow cabinet being female, and the arrival of "strong and powerful" Nationals women such as Senator Davey.
"I think the Nationals do better than anyone without a quota. We've never had quotas," he said.
"We'll be working through and respecting, obviously, the incumbency, but there'll be obviously transition, but when there's those transitions, that we're identifying those strong women within our communities that we should be talking to now and saying, you should think about this. Here's the time to think about it.
"And one of the things we've got to make sure that we're clear to them is there's never a perfect time to enter politics for family or anything else. But we're going to put the support around you to make sure that it can work."
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