Chester to the crossbench?

Alex Ford

GIPPSLAND MHR Darren Chester has thrown himself into the leadership turbulence in Canberra, saying on Tuesday that a new Prime Minister should not assume the rest of the Coalition will fall into line behind them.

As of publication deadline Thursday morning, Malcolm Turnbull was PM, but was facing a second challenge from former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

When it came to his standing in parliament, Mr Chester said “all the options are on the table”, including moving to the crossbench as an “independent National” or the backbench.

“I’m simply saying that no potential challenger to the Prime Minister should automatically assume they would command a majority on the floor of the parliament given we only have a one-seat majority,” he told ABC Gippsland.

“I don’t want to do any of those things (move to the crossbench or become a backbencher), I want us to focus on delivering for the Australian people.”

The Gippsland Times sought comment from Mr Chester, but his office directed it to a transcript of ABC interviews.

In 2010, Western Australian National Tony Crook chose to sit as a crossbencher instead of with the Coalition, and Mr Chester told ABC Breakfast to look at the historical precedents.

The WA Nationals do not have an agreement with the Coalition, and Mr Crook agreed to support the Coalition on confidence and supply, but occasionally voted with the Labor government. He rejoined the federal Nationals in 2012, and retired from politics in 2013.

Mr Chester reiterated his support for current PM Malcolm Turnbull, saying repeatedly that elected leaders should be allowed to serve a full term.

“The Liberal Party voted (Tuesday) in their leadership ballot and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull won the ballot, and I’m urging my colleagues to simply get on with the job now and get focused on the issues that matter to all people in Australia, particularly in my electorate of Gippsland, and to deliver for them, because the moment we spend time talking about ourselves, people are switching off,” he said.

“This is the future of our government, and the future of our nation, I’m not getting involved in telling people who to vote for, I’m simply pointing out the fact that the vote was held (Tuesday), 48 Liberals voted to 35, to keep Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in his job.”

There were reports Wednesday that at least two other Nationals were considering similar action, and Nationals Senator John Williams told Sky News the Coalition agreement may have to be withdrawn under a new Liberal leader.

Former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton challenged Mr Turnbull to the Liberal Party leadership on Tuesday, and resigned his cabinet position after the loss, but has stated publicly he is preparing for a second challenge.

At time of writing, Mr Turnbull had rejected Mr Dutton’s request for a second meeting on Thursday morning, but Mathias Cormann, Mitch Fifield and Michaelia Cash had resigned from the cabinet, paving the way for a leadership spill.

National Party members of parliament are not able to vote in Liberal Party leadership motions.

On Thursday morning, at deadline, Mr Chester tweeted he was “appalled and bitterly disappointed” by the morning’s events, which included Mr Turnbull potentially standing aside so treasurer Scott Morrison would stand against Mr Dutton in a spill.”