The Nationals are on the brink of an internal revolt after leader Barnaby Joyce dumped two of his ministers as part of a Coalition cabinet reshuffle announced by Malcolm Turnbull, which places a heavy emphasis on wooing votes in Queensland.
Mr Turnbull has added several new faces to his ministry – including five new Cabinet appointments – in what he plans to be the final reshuffle of his front bench before the next federal election.
In Mr Turnbull’s fifth ministerial shake-up in just over two years as leader, two Nationals – new deputy leader Bridget Mckenzie and first-term Queensland MP David Littleproud – jumped straight from the back bench to cabinet.
They replace Nationals MP and Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester, who was controversially dumped, and former Nationals deputy leader Fiona Nash who was disqualified for being a dual citizen when elected.
Queensland Liberal MP John McVeigh also jumped straight from the backbench to Cabinet.
Also departing cabinet were Liberals Arthur Sinodinos, who resigned as Industry, Innovation and Science Minister due to ill-health, and George Brandis, who resigned as Attorney-General to replace Alexander Downer as Australia’s next High Commissioner in London.
In the biggest boilover, the Nationals kept their five-out-of-22 cabinet positions but Mr Chester was dumped and his spot given to Mr Littleproud whose sole federal political experience is 18 months as a backbencher.
Queenslander Keith Pitt, who Mr Joyce does not like, was not only overlooked but dumped from his job as Parliamentary Secretary for Trade. The two recently had a bitter argument about Mr Joyce’s infidelity and marriage break-up.
NSW MP Michael McCormack was also overlooked and stays in the outer ministry. He lost Small Business and was given Veterans Affairs.
Mr Chester did the numbers for fellow Victorian Senator McKenzie who beat Mr Joyce’s candidate of Matt Canavan to replace Ms Nash as deputy leader.
Mr Chester was also one of two Nationals who supported same-sex marriage.
The official reason was Mr Chester was dumped because there are only four Nationals MPs from Victoria and that two in cabinet were too many when Queensland was under-represented.
But sources said Mr Chester was furious. He was offered a more junior role as parliamentary secretary, including by Mr Turnbull during a long telephone conversation, “but told them to stick it”, said a party source.
Mr Turnbull said it was Mr Joyce’s idea.
“The composition of the ministry has to take into account matters of geography as well, and, plainly, Barnaby Joyce will no doubt be able to answer this directly, the Nationals have a very large component of their party room comes from Queensland,” he said.
“Barnaby was keen to see that reflected in their representatives in the Cabinet.”
Others are saying Mr Pitt might quit the Coalition. He could not be contacted.
‘It’s a mess’
“It’s a mess and it’s going to turn into an even bigger mess,” said a Nationals MP.
Mr Joyce has moved from Agriculture to take Mr Chester’s job as Infrastructure and Transport Minister, giving him oversight during an election year of the much-vaunted Melbourne-to-Brisbane inland rail link.
Senator Mckenzie will become Minister for Sport, Rural Health and Regional Communications.
Mr Littleproud’s ascension to Agriculture and Water Minister has caused a lot of friction.
“Colleagues are just dumbstruck,” said an MP.
“He used to be a rural bank lender. That will go down a treat in the bush.”
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton becomes the Home Affairs Minister, the new super security portfolio. He will be assisted in the outer ministry by Angus Taylor, who has been promoted, and Alan Tudge. Both have national security portfolios.
Senator Brandis will be replaced as Attorney-General by Christian Porter who departs the social services portfolio, much to the relief of the disability sector which has been unhappy at his performance over the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Mr Porter’s role of Social Services goes to Dan Tehan who moved up from the outer ministry and into cabinet.
Michael Keenan has been promoted from the outer ministry portfolio of Justice Minster to cabinet and the role of Human Services.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has been shifted sideways to a new portfolio of Jobs and Innovation while her old role as Minister for Women has been added to Kelly O’Dwyer’s financial services duties.
Craig Laundy enters the outer ministry with responsibility for Small Business and Industrial Relations.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann takes on the additional role of Special Minister of State, vacated when Scott Ryan became Senate President. Senator Cormann replaces Senator Brandis as Coalition Senate leader.
Mr Turnbull said the reshuffle “reflects the values of the Coalition with new and reinvigorated portfolios, designed to encourage enterprise, particularly small businesses, family businesses, innovative businesses, and, of course, protecting vulnerable families”.
“This is a ministry rich with diverse experience and energy. And it reflects our very, very talented party room. Sadly, there is always more ministerial talent than there are places in the ministry.”
Mr Turnbull had considered bringing back Sussan Ley who was sacked in January as health minister over her use of travel entitlements. But in the end, he decided against it.
The retirements of Senators Brandis and Sinodinos takes to 14 the number of senators who have either retired, been sacked or forced out due for breaching section 44 of the Constitution since the July 2 election. That’s an 18 per cent loss in just 18 months.
Those who have gone are Senator Brandis, Senator Sinodinos, Chris Back and Stephen Conroy, all of whom retired.
Sam Dastyari was sacked while Malcolm Roberts, Stephen Parry, Fiona Nash, Jacqui Lambie, Sky Kakoschke-Moore, Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters all fell foul of section 44(i). Bob Day and Rod Culleton were in breach of different subsections of section 44.
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