Gippsland MHR Darren Chester returning to the back bench after reshuffle

Gippsland MHR Darren Chester says he won't be going anywhere, despite a demotion to the back bench.

Gippsland MHR Darren Chester has again been relegated to the back bench, after a reshuffle by new Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce.

It means Mr Chester is out of his job as Veterans’ Affairs Minister and Minister for Defence Personnel, despite the preparation work he has done for the looming Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.

He has been replaced by New South Wales MP Andrew Gee.

It’s a case of deja vu for Mr Chester. In 2017, he was demoted so Mr Joyce could take over from him as Infrastructure and Transport Minister.

At the weekend Mr Joyce complimented Mr Chester for the work he had done, but said “that is the process of politics”.

Mr Chester said he had been “incredibly humbled” by the support expressed publicly and privately in recent days by veterans’ organisations and individuals.

“I love Gippsland, and I’m not going anywhere,” he added.

“There was still plenty of work to be done but that task will fall to the incoming minister.

“I urge the ex-service community to provide the same constructive feedback, practical advice and input that my team benefited from.”

Mr Chester said the Royal Commission was a chance to unite the veteran community and everyone had a chance to have their say.

“As a back-bencher, I want to see the coalition government maintain the momentum for reform, and build on all the good work we are doing while the Royal Commission runs its course,” he said.

“I will continue to advocate strongly for Australians to understand that the majority of veterans will transition successfully to civilian life.

“The myth that all veterans are broken is damaging to their well-being and creates a vicious circle of despondency and desperation.

“As a grateful nation, we must support those who need our help, but at the same time promote the many achievements of our veteran community.

“I also want to recognise the extraordinary leadership of the Australian Defence Force and the many thousands of serving personnel I’ve had the pleasure of meeting,” Mr Chester said.

“You keep us safe in an ever-changing world and you are the first people we turn to when the job gets too big for local agencies.

“As a civilian, it has been a privilege to see you training and deploying at home and abroad.

“In my own electorate, with your work on Operation Bushfire Assist and more recently with the flood and storm recovery, I have been constantly impressed by the professionalism, determination and resilience you display.

“The character values of always looking after your mates, and acting with dignity and respect in adversity, have set a standard which I hope to emulate.”

Mr Chester said there was a positive in the move to the back bench – he would be able to spend more time with his wife Julie and their four children. “Ministerial responsibility takes hours away from family life and the biggest benefit of being sacked from Cabinet for the second time is that we get to spend more time together in the place we love,” he said.

Mark Coulton has lost his role as Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government, while Michael McCormack remains on the backbench after losing his job as Nationals leader.

Water and Resources Minister Keith Pitt will retain his portfolios, but is out of Cabinet.

David Gillespie will be Minister for Regional Health, and Queensland senator Susan McDonald will become envoy for Northern Australia.

Keith Pitt has retained the water and resources portfolios, but will no longer be in Cabinet.

Bridget McKenzie returns to Cabinet, becoming Minister for Regionalisation, Regional Communications and Regional Education.

She will also take up responsibilities for drought and emergency management, previously held by Deputy Nationals leader David Littleproud.

Mr Littleproud will stay as Agriculture Minister and take on the Northern Australia portfolio.

Mr Joyce was elected as the party’s new leader last week during a leadership spill against Mr McCormack.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new frontbench line-up would be sworn in on Friday.

A browned-off Gippsland MHR Darren Chester, who mistakenly wore mismatched shoes to work last week, commented on social media “sums up the week really”.