When brutal politics wins over merit

By Greg Allen-Pretty

Darren Chester speaking to me on the radio after an early morning run in Canberra.

Barnaby Joyce had better think twice before showing his face in the Gippsland electorate again. The locals are up in arms.

The Nationals leader chopped Gippsland MP Daren Chester from the cabinet, losing his transport & infrastructure portfolio because he’s a Victorian.

It happened in the same swift action by Joyce that elevated a first-time National from Queensland to the big table. Apparently some unknown bloke called David Littleproud had to be squeezed in, so with only five Coalition spots available to the Nats, someone had to go.

I also wonder if Darren was slightly too progressive for the Nats. He went on the record in 2014 in support of marriage equality, which I applauded him for, and he supported Bridget McKenzie over Joyce’s choice of Matt Canovan for the party’s deputy leadership.

Darren said “I believe we need to have more women in Cabinet and positive female role models in my party at a senior level.”

Darren was good at his job, as has been acknowledged by many of his parliamentary colleagues. But it seems it all came down to numbers and geography. Good performers are often rewarded, but not always when brutal politics takes over.

Also, let’s not forget that Darren actively pushed for the Australian Defence Force’s Basic Flying Training to move from Tamworth to East Sale. Tamworth is in Joyce’s electorate so he wouldn’t have liked that.

How Herald Sun cartoonist Mark Knight saw it.

Darren said on Wednesday:

I got into politics to make a difference and to do my bit for the community of Gippsland and Australia.
It has been an enormous honour and a privilege to serve in the Cabinet and naturally I’m disappointed to miss out in today’s reshuffle.
But life goes on and I’m appreciative of all the emails, texts, phone calls and social media posts encouraging me after today’s news. Rest assured, I’m looking forward to continuing to serve Gippsland with passion, enthusiasm and determination for many years to come… if you’ll still have me of course!
I would like to thank my family and staff for the love, friendship and enormous support they have given me, particularly over the past four years in Ministerial roles.
Together, we have helped to make a difference.

Ed Gannon wrote in The Weekly Times:

It appears there were two reasons for his demise. It certainly had nothing to do with his performance.
The first was that Chester supported Senator Bridget McKenzie in her successful bid to become deputy leader of the National Party, defeating party leader Barnaby Joyce’s preferred candidate, Matt Canavan.
The second was that Chester was on the outer in the Nationals for being a supporter of same-sex marriage.
Chester came out of the blocks early on that one, arguing that far too many young people in regional Australia were committing suicide because of the stigma of being gay.
He copped a lot of heat within his local electorate for that stance, with an unsuccessful move by an evangelical-church-backed group to oust him in preselections.
All this apparently proved too much for Mr Joyce, who made a “captain’s call” to dump Chester — despite the Nationals retaining five spots in cabinet — and promote little-known Queenslander David Littleproud into Cabinet as agriculture minister, with Joyce taking Chester’s portfolio.

Ed’s full article: We all lose out from Darren Chester’s demotion

Darren told Sky News Australia political reporter David Speers he doesn’t accept Barnaby Joyce’s reasons for demotion from cabinet.

“The main reason given to me was that it was a factor of geography, the Queensland team wanted to see more Queenslanders in ministerial roles,” Darren said.

“As a matter of principle I don’t accept that, it’s like saying we’re only to going to pick Queenslanders for the Australian test cricket team.

“You pick the best team available.”

State Nationals colleague Danny O’Brien, the Member for Gippsland South, said he was deeply disappointed for Darren.

“Without Darren’s work,” Mr O’Brien said, “we would not have the Black Spur section of the South Gippsland Highway project soon to get underway, we would not be about to spend $10 million on the Hyland Highway, we would not be duplicating the final stages of the Princes Highway between Traralgon and Sale and we would definitely not be about to spend more than half a billion dollars on the Gippsland rail line.”

“All of these things and more Darren has delivered in just the last few years in his role as Minister and the new Minister will have to pull out all stops to keep faith with the people of Gippsland, as Darren has done.”

The good news for Gippsland is that Darren will now have more time in the region.

“I’m looking forward to taking a break in Gippsland, recharging my batteries with family and friends, and getting stuck into 2018,” Darren said.

Look for him at his much-loved Lakes Entrance Surf Life Saving Club during January.

The federal National Party owes Darren. If there’s any fairness in politics, he’ll rise again.