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Joyce rewards backers, but insists he knew nothing about spill

Politics

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce continues to claim he was blindsided by a National Party leadership spill after rewarding his backers by promoting them to cabinet.

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Joyce did the breakfast television rounds on Monday morning and was reminded that a week ago he claimed there would not be a partyroom ballot.

He toppled Michael McCormack just hours later after Queensland confidant Matt Canavan called a spill.

Joyce said there were obviously discussions going on behind the scenes but he did not know something was going to happen until he was in the partyroom meeting.

“It really basically unfolds right at that time as to whether it’s going to happen or not,” he told Network Seven.

“It was other people’s decisions – I said I was never going to call a spill and I didn’t.”

Joyce has reshuffled the party’s front bench, promoting supporters and dropping detractors from cabinet.

He said the reshuffle was not about winners and losers, but one aimed at “revitalising” the coalition government.

Darren Chester was among those to lose his portfolios, dumped from the veterans’ affairs ministry.

Chester apologised to regional communities for the way the National Party had conducted itself.

“In the middle of a global pandemic, as we are recovering from bushfires, from drought, from storms, we spent the whole week talking about ourselves again,” he told the ABC.

Chester, widely respected among the defence and veterans’ communities, said it was up to others to explain why he was sacked.

Political pundits have described the reshuffle as nakedly transactional, selfish, venal, vengeful and shameless.

Chester refused to add to the commentary and would not say whether he believed Joyce had learned from his mistakes.

“You’re asking the wrong bloke. He sacked me three years ago and he has sacked me again, so you tell me. It’s up to him to demonstrate that,” Chester said.

“These are questions individuals really need to answer for themselves, I can’t do a running commentary on my colleagues.

“One, I can’t be bothered. And two, I’ve got better things to focus on in terms of my own community.”

Bridget McKenzie returns to cabinet 18 months after quitting due to the sports rorts affairs and is now responsible for regional communications and education.

Joyce supporter Andrew Gee was promoted to cabinet, replacing Chester in the veterans’ affairs portfolio.

Keith Pitt retains the resources and water portfolios but has been bumped to the outer ministry.

Pitt said he was disappointed to be dumped from cabinet but insisted the sectors he represented would be given just as much attention.

Queensland senator Susan McDonald was given a promotion of sorts, named as a special envoy for northern Australia.

David Gillespie will join the ministry with responsibility for regional health, with Mark Coulton given the boot.

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