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Barnaby Joyce to face multiple challenges for Nationals leadership

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Nationals’ leader Barnaby Joyce will likely face multiple challenges to his leadership on Monday 30 May 2022 with his deputy David Littleproud and Gippsland MP and former Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester both throwing their hats in the ring.

Former Nationals’ leader Michael McCormack has also hinted at challenging Barnaby Joyce when the party meets on Monday. As is party tradition, after each election the positions of National leader and deputy leader open up for a vote.

The challengers come with different perspectives on the current state of the National Party. David Littleproud has thanked Barnaby Joyce for his service to date but believes ‘this is the appropriate time to put myself forward for my party room’s consideration as their leader’. Stating that ‘ultimately, this is a decision on who will lead to the Nationals to the 2025 election.’

Darren Chester has stated ‘we need to be honest with each other in the party room and take some responsibility for the Liberal losses in the city. How we develop our policies, deliver our message, and work with our Coalition partners in the future will determine whether we can return to government and deliver for regional communities.’ Mr Chester feels that now is the time for a change in the National Party. Likening Barnaby Joyce’s sentiments that the Nationals were not partly to blame for the Coalition losses, Mr Chester explained ‘it’s a bit like a surgeon coming out of an operation and saying the operation was a great success, but the patient died.’

Former National’s leader, Michael McCormack who lost the leadership to Barnaby Joyce in June 2021 believes the results of the election could have been more favourable had he remained leader. McCormack stated, ‘the votes were much higher last time than they were this time’ and that ‘there shouldn’t have been a change of leadership of the National Party.’

The three potential challengers differ on some key policies with Mr Chester believing Australia could achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Mr Littleproud has been a strong advocate for action on climate change, establishing a biodiversity stewardship program while in government. But he has been cautious about agreeing to net-zero 2050, stating that he is sympathetic to the target – as long as there is a credible path to get there and one that will not disadvantage rural Australians. David Littleproud has also stated that agricultural sectors have already ‘done the heavy lifting’ in terms of climate action and that there ‘shouldn’t be any more disadvantage for agriculture.’ He also suggested that ‘farmers should be rewarded for the stewardship and the role they play.’

Michael McCormack believes the net-zero stance Nationals took to the election lost them seats, saying that ‘we settled where we needed to land [on the net-zero policy] then amid a heated campaign [Senator Matt] Canavan came out and said it was dead’. McCormack believes a commitment to net zero was always going to happen and backs a commitment to the net-zero emissions target by 2050.

The three challengers also differ on what factors are important for their constituents. Mr Chester believes voters are interested in the big environmental issues and building resilience to overcome natural disasters.

Mr McCormack believes ‘net zero isn’t the discussion being had in regional Australia, it’s covid and borders and masks those sort of things.’

Whoever is successful in taking on the leadership of the Nationals will have an important part to play in bringing together disillusioned voters who overwhelmingly voted for independents such as One Nation (up 1.77%), United Australia Party (up 0.64%), Liberal Democrats (up 1.44%) and ‘freedom parties’. The challenge will include balancing human rights, responsible action on environmental issues, and bringing integrity back to governments right across Australia.

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