Nationals MP steps back over ‘extreme right-wing’ of party

A Victorian Nationals MP says leadership of the federal government’s coalition partner is “dysfunctional” and panders to increasingly extreme views.

Photo: AAP/Mick Tsikas

Photo: AAP/Mick Tsikas

Darren Chester says he’s taking a break following the return of Barnaby Joyce to the federal leadership.

“My decision follows months of frustration with the repeated failure of the leadership to even attempt to moderate some of the more disrespectful and offensive views expressed by a minority of colleagues,” Chester said on Sunday.

He will not attend organised meetings, events and activities in the Nationals federal parliamentary party room, and will reassess his position when parliament resumes in mid-October.

Chester, 54, lost his frontbench spot when Joyce returned to the Nationals leadership in June after losing the deputy prime-ministership to scandal.

Chester has been increasingly concerned about Joyce’s reluctance to rein in close supporters, Queensland’s George Christensen and Matt Canavan.

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

“The party room and the way it’s working at the moment is quite dysfunctional.

“Comments from colleagues made in particular around the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the protests in Victoria and the pandemic have been very unhelpful.

“Regional Australia needs a strong voice but a sensible voice.”

Chester said he was concerned about the direction some Nationals MPs were trying to take the party.

Joyce has laughed off suggestions he could gag Christensen.

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Resources Minister Keith Pitt said he was certain Chester would return to the party room soon and stand at the next election.

However, he played down concerns about some of the comments made by MPs in party room meetings.

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

“There is a range of views in the room, depending on where you come from and who you represent.”

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