Former Abbott government minister Ian Macfarlane has announced plans to move from the Liberal party room to join the Nationals.
Mr Macfarlane said he will seek permission from the district council in his southern Queensland electorate of Groom to switch to the Nationals party room in Canberra, because he is “keen to ensure that regional Queensland and regional Australia continues to be well represented”.
While he would not be drawn on his leadership ambitions within the National Party, Mr Macfarlane said he would put himself forward “on the basis of merit” for a potential future ministerial vacancy, and that his “depth of experience is second only to [Nationals leader] Warren Truss”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was told about Mr MacFarlane’s intentions when he got back from Paris on Wednesday.
As a Queensland LNP member, Mr Macfarlane’s switch to the Nationals party room will not affect the Coalition’s numbers in the House of Representatives.
“I’m as National Party as anyone,” he said.
“Someone said to me today ‘you’ll have to go and buy an Akubra’. I said, ‘I’ve got five, and I’ve got seven pairs of RMs’.”
Mr Macfarlane acknowledged he was disappointed to be demoted from the ministry when Mr Turnbull took office, but said his departure does not indicate a rift with the Prime Minister.
“I’m a huge fan of Malcolm’s, we’ve worked together for a very long time and no one was more delighted than me to see him become Prime Minister,” he said.
“It’s actually a huge vote of confidence in Malcolm Turnbull, because the alternative was to leave Parliament. I want to serve under Warren Truss and Malcolm Turnbull.”
Joyce involved in discussions with Macfarlane
Earlier, senior Nationals sources told the ABC that Mr Macfarlane had indicated to them he wanted to make the change.
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has been involved in discussions with Mr Macfarlane, but the party’s leader Warren Truss told reporters he was not aware of any move.
The ABC understands Mr Macfarlane initiated the talks.
One Nationals source told the ABC the vast majority of their party room are “very positive” about the prospect of Ian Macfarlane joining.
“Santa has come early to our party,” they said.
“Ian has a strong record and he’d fit very easily with our personality. He has strong regional credentials. It’s a natural fit.”
Nationals MP David Gillespie has previously argued his party should be entitled to an extra Cabinet position because the number of spots increased following the reshuffle in September.
Mr Macfarlane was dumped from the frontbench where he held the position of Minister for Industry and Science, when Mr Turnbull became Prime Minister.
In 2013, he unsuccessfully lobbied for Cabinet to continue financial support for the car industry.
The following year Mr Macfarlane was rolled again when the Government rejected an assistance package for food processor, SPC Ardmona.
Mr Macfarlane is a member of the Queensland LNP and holds the rural seat of Groom, west of Brisbane.
The change would not affect the Coalition’s numbers in the House of Representatives.
Mr Macfarlane is a farmer and former president of the lobby group, Queensland Graingrowers, and has a strong connection to rural industry.