Nationals MPs fear a ruthless reshuffle of their federal cabinet posts to reward those who voted for Barnaby Joyce to lead the party, amid Labor scorn that he will join a cabinet taskforce on women’s safety.
Mr Joyce is preparing to announce his new ministerial team as soon as Friday after Parliament rose on Thursday for a five-week break over winter, giving new ministers time to learn their tasks.
Some Nationals fear the reshuffle will drive out those loyal to former leader Michael McCormack (front) despite Barnaby Joyce’s promise to try to unite the party after the leadership spill.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
But he is yet to seal a Coalition agreement with Prime Minister Scott Morrison to formalise the alliance between Liberals and Nationals after the removal of former leader Michael McCormack on Monday.
The changes come after a coronavirus scare in Parliament when Mr Joyce took a brief absence from question time, saying he had come into contact with someone who was a close contact of another person who had COVID-19.
While authorities cleared Mr Joyce to be in Parliament, it later emerged at least one person had travelled from Sydney to Canberra to meet politicians and their staff in recent days before discovering they had been at a site exposed to COVID-19.
Pharmacy Guild executive David Heffernan was at an event at the NSW Parliament on Tuesday night with NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall, who later tested positive for the virus. Mr Heffernan travelled to Canberra the next day and was at Hotel Realm and the Kingston Hotel on Wednesday night.
He said he cancelled meetings on Thursday morning as soon as he learned of Mr Marshall’s infection. He has gone into isolation and was awaiting a test result on Thursday night.
The Nationals reshuffle is being described as “vindictive” by some who fear it will drive out those loyal to Mr McCormack despite Mr Joyce’s promise to try to unite the party after the leadership spill.
The casualties are expected to include Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester, Regional Health Minister Mark Coulton, Assistant Minister for Children and Families Michelle Landry and Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister Kevin Hogan, all of whom backed Mr McCormack.
That scenario raises the prospect of another extended period of bad blood within the party room, with some Nationals arguing Mr Chester should keep his portfolio even if he is moved out of cabinet.
Mr Joyce can only reward his supporters if he removes at least one minister from cabinet to make way for allies, with Victorian senator Bridget McKenzie likely to be restored to a top ministry.
Senator McKenzie, who resigned in the “sports rorts” scandal early last year and backed Mr Joyce in the ballot this week, is being named as a likely contender for the veterans’ affairs portfolio.
Resources Minister Keith Pitt is expected to keep his position but Regional Education Minister Andrew Gee is also in line for an expanded role after switching to Mr Joyce in recent weeks and building momentum for the spill.
Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud, who backed Mr McCormack but did not contest the leadership and was not challenged for his own position, is expected to remain in the agriculture portfolio.
Mr Littleproud is regarded by many as a future leader but he denied on Thursday he was “leader in waiting” and said he had not made any deal with Mr Joyce about the future.
“The reality is no one can make a deal on the leadership of the National Party,” he told radio station 2CC.
“Michael lost the spill. I probably, at that point, had every right to put my hand up. But when Michael stood up, I felt that I’d made a commitment and I could not stand knowingly against Michael McCormack after I made that public statement and because I’d made it to Michael as well.
“So in that respect, had Michael not stood up to contest the leadership after losing the spill, I would’ve stood up, but that didn’t happen.”
The government confirmed on Thursday Mr Joyce would join the federal cabinet taskforce on women, taking a position previously held by Mr McCormack.
Labor spokeswoman on women Tanya Plibersek said that was a “farce” given recent criticism of Mr Joyce from women in agriculture and rural affairs.
Nationals deputy leader for Victoria Steph Ryan this week said Mr Joyce’s previous actions did not make him eligible for the leadership. Mr Joyce stepped down from the Nationals leadership in February 2018 after a woman made a sexual harassment allegation against him. He denied the claim and a party investigation was unable to make a determination.
The Nationals sought to put pressure on the Liberals on policy on Thursday by trying to amend the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in the lower house to make changes that would favour farmers, but the government rejected the move.
Mr Joyce and Mr Pitt, who is responsible for water as well as resources, stayed out of the debate as their backbench colleague Damian Drum tried to move the amendments against objections from the government leader in the lower house, Defence Minister Peter Dutton.
Labor sought to exploit the division by putting the changes to a vote, but Mr Drum retreated at the prospect of an open rift on the floor of Parliament, handing victory to the Liberals after a two-day argument about water.
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.
Most Viewed in Politics
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article