Darren Chester worried about 'extreme right-wing' push within the Nationals as he takes break from party room
Nationals MP Darren Chester says part of his decision to take a break from the party is because of the "very hard right-wing agenda" he believes other members are pushing.Key points:
- Mr Chester says he felt unsupported in his attempts to moderate some of the more extreme views in the party
- He says he will continue to support the Coalition in government
- Deputy leader David Littleproud says it is not the first time an MP has taken a break from the party
Yesterday Mr Chester confirmed he would not attend partyroom meetings because of his frustration and concern around the leadership within the party.
Speaking today, the Victorian MP described the leadership as "dysfunctional" and said his attempts to raise issues about comments other MPs had made fell on deaf ears.
"It's about some of the comments colleagues made, particularly around the withdrawal from Afghanistan and some comments around the protests in Victoria," he said.
"I found them very unhelpful … and having asked them to not make them privately, then them continuing, I felt I was unsupported in trying to moderate our voice.
"My concern and my frustration has been that there are some that want to push a very hard right-wing agenda which isn't something I'm comfortable with."
Mr Chester has been publicly critical of his Queensland colleague George Christensen, who last week suggested Victoria Police officers should be arrested for using "excessive force" against protesters in Melbourne.
The former veterans' affairs minister, who was dumped from Cabinet when Barnaby Joyce resumed the leadership in July, also criticised Queensland senator Matt Canavan for comments made in the wake of the withdrawal from Kabul, describing them as "offensive" and "disrespectful".
"I'm concerned about where some in other arms of the party are wanting to take the National Party," Mr Chester said.
"I think the Nationals have a great future if we represent the mainstream regional values, and that's not the extreme right wing that others seek to represent."
Mr Chester said he had not spoken to Mr Joyce yet, but he would be doing so in the coming days.Climate one of many factors
Mr Chester is a moderate in the party, and supports stronger action on climate change.
His decision to step away from the party room comes as tensions between MPs over whether Australia should set a target of net zero emissions by 2050 gain momentum.
Mr Chester has confirmed internal divisions over net zero were one factor in his decision to take a break.
Deputy leader David Littleproud said Mr Chester's decision needed to be respected by colleagues and was not without precedent.
"It's not as though it hasn't happened before, we've got very passionate National Party backbenchers," Mr Littleproud said.
In 2018, Nationals MP Kevin Hogan announced he would sit on the crossbench in protest over leadership coups, yet remained a Nationals MP.
"There's been others who have not come to party room for some time," Mr Littleproud said.
"You've got to appreciate that there are 21 fierce [politicians] looking after their regional communities and they want to make sure their communities are heard.
"That's not a bad thing, that's us doing our job for regional Australia."
Former Nationals leader Michael McCormack said Mr Chester was still upset about being dumped from Cabinet when Barnaby Joyce became leader.
Check out the winners and losers after Barnaby Joyce's return as Nationals leader prompted a shakeup of the Coalition's ministry.Read more
"I understand Darren is hurt after losing the portfolio area of veterans' affairs, he was doing an outstanding job in that area," Mr McCormack told the ABC.
He predicted Mr Chester would eventually return to partyroom meetings.
He said Mr Chester had left a Nationals Party chat group after a public disagreement with Mr Christensen.
"He and George Christensen both left on the same day after a difference of opinion over some commentary around policing," Mr McCormack said.