‘We are not the Liberals’ excuse’: Joyce to push for leadership at Victorian Nationals conference

Barnaby Joyce will make a pitch for his political survival when he addresses the state branch of the National Party on Friday night ahead of a looming leadership challenge.

His appearance at the party’s state conference in Shepparton comes as outspoken Gippsland MP Darren Chester confirmed he would contest the leadership following the Coalition’s crushing election loss last weekend.

Barnaby Joyce during the election campaign.Credit:James Brickwood

Joyce is expected to distance himself from the Coalition’s defeat and tell Victorian Nationals MPs and members that the Liberal Party must take responsibility for losing government.

“We are not the Liberals’ excuse, they must look at their own ship and own it,” he will say.

Joyce is expected to argue that Australians “overwhelmingly wanted change” and the election loss was a result of infighting in the NSW Liberal branch, as well as WA Premier Mark McGowan’s popularity in Western Australia.

Joyce’s appearance in Victoria just days after the Coalition’s disastrous election loss comes amid rising anger from city-based Liberal MPs over his comments during the campaign deriding the Coalition’s net zero emissions policy, which they claim damaged their election chances.

Under Joyce's leadership, the Nationals retained every one of their 16 lower house seats. Joyce spent only a handful of days campaigning in Victoria during the six-week campaign, visiting the seats of Nicholls and Mallee.

National Party sources, speaking to The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on the condition of anonymity, said Joyce was expected to remind Victorian Nationals that over the last six years the Liberals have “lost more than 30 seats while the Nationals have held their ground and marginally increased their position”.

Joyce has repeatedly rejected criticism that he was toxic for the Liberal Party's brand in metropolitan areas, which he says is proven by the fact he was asked to campaign in multiple Liberal seats in NSW and Queensland.

Joyce is expected to use his party’s stronger showing at the polls than the Liberals in a bid for an extra frontbench position in opposition. He confirmed to The Age and Sydney Morning Herald that he would offer it to Darren Chester.

Nationals MP Darren Chester will challenge Barnaby Joyce for the party’s leadership.Credit:Simon Schluter

Joyce previously sacked Chester from the frontbench after he took back the leadership in 2021, in a move viewed as punishment for Chester's support for former leader Michael McCormack.

Several National Party MPs confirmed the two leadership rivals have barely spoken since Joyce defeated McCormack.

On Thursday, Chester, who represents the seat of Gippsland, said he would challenge Joyce for the top job in a party room ballot on Monday.

“We need to be honest with each other in the party room and take some responsibility for the Liberal losses in the city,” he said.

“How we develop our policies, deliver our message, and work with our Coalition partners in the future will determine whether we can return to government and deliver for regional communities.”

If successful, Chester, who is considered a moderate voice in the party room, said he would also offer Joyce a seat on frontbench.

Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh, who is close to Chester, said his federal colleagues would decide on the leadership early next week.

Walsh said he expected deputy leader David Littleproud and former leader Michael McCormack would also nominate for leadership roles.

“I think whoever they choose will do a very good job on behalf of regional Australia,” he said.

Three Nationals MPs, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they also expected Littleproud to mount a challenge.

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