Nationals MP Darren Chester taking a break from party room following 'frustration' with leadership
Nationals backbencher Darren Chester has confirmed he is taking a break from the party and will not attend partyroom meetings because of growing frustrations with the leadership.Key points:
- Mr Chester says he is frustrated with the Nationals' failure to moderate "disrespectful and offensive" views of fellow MPs
- He says he will continue to support the Coalition government
- Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce said he would not seek to silence controversial MP George Christensen
His announcement comes as tensions erupt within the party over moves to adopt a target of net zero emissions by 2050.
"To be clear, I continue to support the Coalition government but want some time away from the Nationals federal parliamentary party room to reflect on a number of significant issues," Mr Chester said in a statement.
"My decision follows months of frustration with the repeated failure of the leadership to even attempt to moderate some of the more disrespectful and offensive views expressed by a minority of colleagues."
The former veterans' affairs minister, who was dumped from Cabinet when Barnaby Joyce resumed the leadership in July, is a moderate Nationals MP who backed same-sex marriage and supports stronger action on climate change.
He has been highly critical of his controversial Queensland colleague George Christensen, who has been condemned by the federal Parliament for spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and last week suggested Victoria Police officers should be arrested for using "excessive force" against protesters in Melbourne.
While Nationals Leader Mr Joyce said he disagreed with Mr Christensen's views, he would not seek to silence his close ally.
"George Christensen is retiring from politics and I do talk to George, but this idea that somehow you can just go up there and demand that he no longer talks or put hobbles on him, gaffer tape his mouth up, that's not going to work," he told Insiders.
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Mr Joyce recently conceded he was also reluctant to criticize Mr Christensen because the Coalition held a slim majority in the Lower House and did not want the Member for Dawson to quit and trigger a by-election.
Highlighting the growing frustrations within the party, the former leader Michael McCormack has also hit out at Mr Joyce for failing to pull Mr Christensen into line.
"He [Joyce] can't just hide under or behind the excuse that you can't control George or that you can't poke the bear," Mr McCormack told the ABC.
"George not only needs to desist from these comments but I think some of the things he's said he probably needs to apologise for, no he doesn't probably need to, he definitely needs to."
Both Mr McCormack and Mr Chester support the principle of achieving net zero by 2050, putting them on a collision course with colleagues including Queensland Senator Matt Canavan who said he was "dead against" the target.
"Just look at the disaster the UK is living through," Senator Canavan tweeted.
"They're switching off their industry to keep their lights on and they are struggling to feed themselves.
"Net zero emissions would just make us weaker."
Senator Canavan is thought to be in the minority in the Coalition party room but his comments suggest he will put up a fight as the government finalises its position, in the lead up to the next round of global climate talks in November.
In his statement, Mr Chester said he planned to re-contest his seat at the next election and would "reassess" his position with the Nationals when Parliament resumes in October.
"I have been preselected as the Nationals candidate for the seat of Gippsland and intend to contest and hopefully win the next election, which will be held at some point in the next 12 months," he said.
"I love Gippsland and I'm not going anywhere."
Mr Chester was elected to federal Parliament 13 years ago and holds Gippsland by a very safe margin of 16.7 per cent.