Barnaby Joyce defends controversial colleagues as moderate MP Darren Chester takes a break
The Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has defended his party as a “broad church” in the wake of moderate MP Darren Chester’s “disappointment” over their outspoken, “hard right-wing” colleagues.
Mr Chester announced in a statement on Sunday that he would be taking a break from the party, including not attending party room meetings, because of growing frustrations with the leadership and the comments made by some of his colleagues including George Christensen.
Mr Joyce said on Monday afternoon he had “reached out” to the Gippsland MP following his announcement.
“We want to make sure we hear the concerns of people and try to make sure that we do all we can to keep everyone on the tent,” he told the ABC.
It comes as tensions erupt within the party over moves to adopt a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Speaking to ABC on Monday morning, Mr Chester, the former veterans’ affairs minister, who was dumped from Cabinet when Mr Joyce resumed leadership in July, said he had become “increasingly disappointed” with the comments of some of his colleagues.
“Now, I strongly believe in the Nationals. I strongly believe that regional Australia needs a powerful voice in the parliament, but it needs to be a sensible voice and I’ve become disappointed with some of the comments of a minority of my colleagues,” Mr Chester said.
“I called them out publicly at the time. I raised my issues with them privately … and I feel disappointed that there was no real support there to pull them into line and to moderate their comments.
“Some of the comments … (were) offensive to me and disrespectful to my communities, and I felt that I really needed to take some time out to reflect on what I might do in terms of my public life going forward.
“ … I’m sorry it’s confusing and I’m sorry it doesn’t make sense to a lot of people, but … I need to take time away from some of my colleagues who I felt are trying to push a hard right-wing agenda which I wasn’t comfortable with.”
Mr Chester confirmed he was alluding to Mr Christensen and Matt Canavan. Mr Christensen came under fire last week after calling for Victorian police officers to be arrested for using “excessive force” on Melbourne protesters last weekend.
He was condemned by Mr Chester as well as former Nationals leader Michael McCormack.
Mr McCormack also criticised his successor, Mr Joyce, for not condemning Mr Christensen.
Senator Canavan has stoked significant controversy in the past month for his social media posts referring to climate change, including one where he asked whether the Taliban would be signing up to net-zero after the Afghan capital fell to the militant group.
Mr Joyce on Monday afternoon avoided criticising Senator Canavan for his Taliban comments, saying “we’ve got to see things in context”.
He also claimed Mr Christensen had condemned the violent protests and the violence against police officers.
Mr Joyce said the Nationals were a “broad church” that included “people of all views”.
“What I love about the National Party is you’ve got the right to say what you like,” he said.
Mr Christensen, a Liberal National MP from Queensland, recently compared mandatory vaccination with slavery and “apartheid” in an online broadcast that was watched by thousands of anti-vaxxers on the encrypted messaging platform Telegram.
Mr Chester said while he hadn’t yet spoken to Mr Joyce, he would over coming days.
“I’m sure that will occur in the coming days and have a chat with quite a few people to work through the differences,” he said.
“I want to be part of a team that works to achieve great things for regional Australia, but that requires a degree of mutual respect and trust and common goals and a passion to work together.”
Originally published as Barnaby Joyce defends controversial colleagues as moderate MP Darren Chester takes a break
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails