23 July 2016
by Phillip Coorey

Queensland LNP revolt aimed at Barnaby Joyce

LNP Senator Ian MacDonald

A threat by Queensland federal Nationals to break away and form a third party inside the federal Coalition was aimed more at toppling Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce than Malcolm Turnbull, senior sources have confirmed.

Despite a move to establish the breakaway group being thwarted on Thursday when Mr Joyce and Attorney-General George Brandis flew to Brisbane to help defeat a party motion, those behind it are determined to continue the push.

Queensland Liberal National Party Senator Ian Macdonald said on Friday the LNP had held the line in Queensland at the last election yet went backwards by one member on the frontbench in this year's ministerial reshuffle.

Senator McDonald, who has previously raised such concerns with Tony Abbott and Mr Turnbull, said he would be putting forward a motion at the LNP convention in August suggesting a Queensland LNP breakaway.

The LNP is an amalgamation of Queensland Liberals and Nationals. Federally, some of its MPs and senators sit with the Liberal party room in Canberra and the others side with the Nationals.

Federally, the Nationals have 22 MPs and senators but if the LNP Nationals were to break away, the federal Nationals would be reduced to 14 and they would have to give some ministerial positions to the LNP breakaway.

Liberals from Queensland including Senator Brandis, Peter Dutton, Like Howarth and Steven Ciobo are opposed to any breakaway movement.

Senator Macdonald said he was not interested in a frontbench position for himself but just wanted fair representation for Queensland.

It is understood the anger in Queensland was stirred when, on Monday, Mr Turnbull appointed two Nationals for NSW to the ministry to reflect the increased ratio of Nationals in Queensland. These were Luke Hartsukyer and David Gillespie.

A source said Mr Joyce was to blame because he recommended to Mr Turnbull the Nationals he wanted elevated.

"This is more about Barnaby than Malcolm" said an LNP source

Senator Brandis disputed claims on Friday that Queensland had been hard done by in the reshuffle, given that Matt Canavan had gone into cabinet.

"I wouldn't over-interpret the disappointment of some that Queensland doesn't have even more representatives in federal cabinet," he said.

Another said the LNP nationals had only themselves to blame because they failed to renew their ranks in the state and there were few people suitable or ready for ministerial promotion. People like Ron Boswell and Bruce Scott had stayed too long in politics and, combined with Mr Joyce moving to NSW and the lower house, there was little to choose from.

Apart from Senator Canavan, Keith Pitt is considered the most eligible for promotion but he stayed in the ranks of parliamentary secretary when the ministry was reshuffled. Others include George Christensen and Ken O'Dowd.

The spectre of division inside the Nationals comes at the worst time for the Coalition. It is governing with a bare majority, meaning MPs have more power than usual if they decided to dissent or cross the floor.

This week, Mr Christensen threatened to cross the floor to oppose the budget changes to superannuation.

This earned him a dressing down on Friday from senior Liberal minister Christopher Pyne who said he should calm down and wait to see what changes may be made during the consultation phase before "jumping the gun".