A Nationals MP dumped from cabinet has described Barnaby Joyce’s phone call to sack him as incoherent and warned Australians to brace for similar conversations.
Darren Chester was sacked from the veterans’ affairs portfolio in a reshuffle which rewarded Mr Joyce’s supporters and punished his opponents.
Mr Chester apologised to regional communities for the Nationals’ conduct last week when Michael McCormack was toppled.
“I’d offer an apology to regional Australians for the conduct they saw from the National Party last week,” he told reporters in Gippsland.
“The conduct by my federal parliamentary team wasn’t good enough. We’re sent to Canberra to fight for them, not to fight each other and I was very disappointed to be caught up in the middle of that.”
Mr Chester, widely respected among the defence and veterans’ communities, said it was up to others to explain why he was sacked.
“The conversation I had with Barnaby was so incoherent yesterday, I couldn’t actually explain what he was even saying to me,” he said.
“So people of Australia, brace yourself, there will be more conversations like that.
“Now we didn’t have harsh words at all, it was just a matter of fact conversation. He was sacking me. I didn’t agree with him, and I got on with the walk I was having with my dog.”
Mr Joyce said the reshuffle was not about winners and losers, but one aimed at “revitalising” the coalition government.
Andrew Gee is set to replace Mr Chester after switching his support to Mr Joyce in recent weeks.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said no one could suggest Mr Gee was more worthy of being veterans’ affairs minister.
“The fact (is) that he’s been dumped as a result of a deal for a bloke who apparently was a junior minister, but no one would have noticed that before his promotion into the cabinet today,” Mr Albanese told reporters.
Bridget McKenzie returns to cabinet 18 months after quitting due to the sports rorts affair and is now responsible for regional communications and education.
Keith Pitt retains the resources and water portfolios but has been bumped to the outer ministry.
Mr Albanese criticised the decision to remove responsibility for the mining sector from cabinet.
“It’s extraordinary, that this government is so arrogant that it thinks that doesn’t matter, that it’ll all just look after itself and we won’t bother having it in the cabinet,” he said.
Mr Joyce has said the leadership ballot blindsided him despite key ally Matt Canavan moving the spill motion.
He said there were obviously discussions going on behind the scenes but he did not know something was going to happen until the partyroom meeting.
“It really basically unfolds right at that time as to whether it’s going to happen or not,” he told Seven.
“It was other people’s decisions – I said I was never going to call a spill and I didn’t.”