Captain Barnaby Joyce has steered the good ship National Party into choppier waters with the dumping of Darren Chester from cabinet.
Chester apparently fell from favour in the wake of backing the non-preferred candidate to replace the court-ousted Fiona Nash to be deputy leader of the rural and regional-based party.
The loss of an effective and amiable senior minister amid ongoing rocky times for the Coalition in Canberra increases the perception battle in country electorates where voter eyes spend more time looking at the offering of rump groups like One Nation, Katter’s Australian Party and the Australian Conservatives.
In one slide across the slippery decks, Barnaby has executed a scene that would rival Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean and would have the Hollywood star’s favourite dogs, Pistol and Boo, barking with excitement.
Stripping the Gippsland MP Chester of the infrastructure portfolio while promoting parliamentary newcomers makes no sense.
The argument that a geographic balance had to be maintained also sinks faster than the Titanic. Among the promotions from within National Party ranks was Damien Drum, something of a modern hero in the party after reclaiming its spiritual “heartland seat” of Murray at the last election.
A minister in the final days of the Napthine Coalition Government in Victoria, the former Fremantle Dockers coach took the step to Canberra in the old seat of Sir John “Black Jack” McEwen following the retirement of Liberal Sharman Stone who had snatched Murray from the Nats two decades earlier.
And of course, Senator Bridget McKenzie is herself a Victorian who hails from Leongatha, strategically located her office in the Bendigo during a time when the Nationals were aiming to boost their presence in electorates based on major regional cities of Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong but lives, it has been reported, in Melbourne.
Barnaby’s captain’s calls have created unnecessary angst in Victoria at a time he should be focussing on settling the troops in Queensland where the LNP is turning on itself following defeat in that state’s election last month.
Former long-time federal MP Peter Lindsay, an affable country bloke, has been suspended along with others by the party for providing frank assessments to the media on the party’s performance in that election.
There are now also rumblings that former premier Campbell Newman is facing similar sanctions for media commentary in the wake of another loss for the right-wing party.
Another of the Barnaby dumpings this week, former assistant minister Keith Pitt is said to be preparing to act as a beachhead for a Queensland LNP ginger group sitting away from colleagues in Parliament.
Hype of a post by-election honeymoon for Turnbull, Joyce and the Coalition is quickly becoming short-lived. Any change of positive recalibration from the reshuffle has been diminished.
Barnaby may well need all hands on decks to extinguish these self-ignited fires that risk engulfing his ship. Unfortunately for him, the number of willing crew members may just fall a couple short.
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