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Former Nationals minister blasts Barnaby, boycotts party room

Politics

Nationals MP and former minister Darren Chester has blamed Barnaby Joyce’s failure to pull two hard-right Queenslanders into line for his decision to take a break from the party.

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Dawson MP George Christensen and Queensland senator Matt Canavan have sparked condemnation from Chester, a Victorian MP and leading moderate voice within the junior coalition partner.

Joyce insists he is powerless to stop the outspoken backbenchers from pushing controversial positions on lockdowns and climate change.

Chester said he had become uncomfortable with the party’s direction since Mr Joyce returned to the Nationals leadership.

“The party room and the way it’s working at the moment is quite dysfunctional,” he told ABC radio on Monday.

Christensen called for two Victorian police to be arrested after using capsicum spray on anti-lockdown rioters in Melbourne.

Canavan – a former cabinet minister – provocatively questioned whether the Taliban would sign up to a net zero emissions target as the regime seized control in Kabul.

Chester said Mr Joyce had offered no support in moderating their views despite him raising it publicly and privately.

The former veterans’ affairs minister – who Joyce dumped from cabinet for a second time earlier in the year – will not participate in partyroom meetings or group chats.

“It’s out of sadness rather than anger. It’s a degree of frustration,” he told Sky News.

Chester described Christensen’s views on COVID, which have included misinformation on face masks and unproven treatments, as off the scale.

He said Canavan’s Taliban tweet was disrespectful and offensive.

“The Nationals have a great future for regional values and not extreme right-wing values.”

Chester, who has been pre-selected as the Nationals candidate for his seat of Gippsland, intends to contest the next election but will reassess his position with the party next month.

Resources Minister Keith Pitt said he was certain his colleague would return before standing at the next election.

But he said there were a range of views within the Nationals from people representing different parts of Australia.

“How do you stop people from walking up to a microphone and making a statement?” he told ABC radio.

Nationals MPs Kevin Hogan and Llew O’Brien have previously taken breaks from the party out of frustration before returning.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Chester had no faith in the government on climate change.

“If Darren Chester doesn’t have confidence in the coalition, in which he was a cabinet minister just a few short months ago, the Australian people shouldn’t have either,” he told reporters.

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