Nationals MP George Christensen has resolved the conflict between being the party’s chief disciplinarian as well as its chief rebel by resigning his position of whip.
The outspoken MP from the Queensland seat of Dawson insisted he was “not pushed by anyone”.
“It was my decision to resign, and my decision alone,” he said.
But he had felt “some of my colleagues may have been aggrieved that the enforcer of discipline was being somewhat ill-disciplined himself”.
“I made the decision to resign because my continued outspokenness on a variety of issues was obviously incompatible with the position of party whip in the long term.”
He said that over the past week as he had reached his decision Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce had been “incredibly supportive and said he would have supported whatever decision I made”. It is understood that he and Joyce had a conversation about the matter about nine or ten days ago.
Christensen has been vocal on the push for an inquiry into the banks, the sugar marketing dispute, Muslim immigration, the Safe Schools program, and climate science. With the government holding a majority of just one, he has indicated he would be willing to cross the floor if issues were not resolved satisfactorily.
In the regional electorate of Dawson, Christensen is on the frontline of the battle against One Nation. A ReachTEL poll there last week, commissioned by the Australia Institute, found the Liberal National Party and One Nation each on 30%.
Not being whip will leave Christensen even freer to speak out locally.
Steeping down as chief Nationals whip will mean he will lose about A$25,000 annually.
In an appeal for unity in the wake of the broadside from Tony Abbott last week, Malcolm Turnbull told MPs at Tuesday’s partyroom meeting they had a “duty to Australia and to our constituents to stick together and be united”.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra