Barnaby Joyce has lit a match under tensions in the Nationals, lashing the Coalition as “no marriage of equals” and demanding its junior partner be given more powerful ministries.
Mr Joyce has reignited tensions in the junior Coalition partner, using an op-ed in The Australian to claim the Coalition had “devolved into a marriage of convenience” that damaged the party’s electoral chances.
The former Nationals leader demanded the party be granted more powerful ministry portfolios to avert electoral disaster, with regional issues “muffled or mute” under the current set-up.
Mr Joyce said “a Coalition has to be in fact and form to authentically live up to its name”, warning the government was propped up by regional seats won by the Nationals.
“There is no ‘marriage of equals’. As time progresses, one party is completely dominated by the other, existing in the shackles of the expectation for harmony,” he wrote. “For better or worse, till death will the Coalition part.”
Mr Joyce said the Nationals were entitled to a fifth cabinet position, which should include a “substantive” portfolio such as treasury, finance, Defence or trade.
At the 2019 election the Nationals only won 4.51% of the vote.
He demanded the imbalance be fixed before the next election, which he said was likely to be at the end of this year.
But Nationals leader Michael McCormack dismissed the concerns on Wednesday, claiming they had never been raised directly.
“Seeing as he used the word of marriage, it’s a marriage of strength. We work well together,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
“Right across the nation, Liberals and Nationals are working together to build a better Australia.
“Regional people have very much placed their faith in the Nationals.
“They’re not worried about the power struggles in Canberra, they’re not worried about who might sit on a committee or what percentage of this and that is made up of the government.”
The comments were the latest salvo in simmering tensions between the current and former Nationals leaders.
Joyce unsuccessfully challenged for the leadership in February, and in January he accused McCormack of allowing funds allocated for the bush to be spent in cities.
Frontbencher Matt Canavan resigned after the attempted coup.
McCormack claimed the leadership question had been resolved by the February ballot, but Joyce warned tensions behind the scenes “did not bode well for any relationship”.
He also accused the Liberals of sidelining McCormack but seating Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to the right of the Prime Minister during question time, a place typically reserved for the Nationals leader.
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