Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Nationals MP George Christensen. Photo: Alex EllinghausenNationals firebrand George Christensen will resign from the job of parliamentary whip, saying his “constant outspokenness” meant the position was untenable.
But the frequent and vocal critic of the Turnbull government, said the move was not a sign he could quit the Coalition. It will also mean his pay is cut from $225,000 a year to $199,000 a year, a $26,000 salary cut.
His resignation as whip comes as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned his colleagues that “disunity is death”, telling them it was their duty to stick together after last week’s outburst by predecessor Tony Abbott sparked a wave of discontent and introspection.
“We have a duty to and to our constituents to stick together, to be united,” he told a meeting of Liberal and National MPs.
“We can be proud of what we’ve done. We’ve done a lot in this Parliament and we need to keep building on that.”
The whip is meant to help enforce parliamentary discipline during votes in the House of Representatives, record votes and help determine who speaks and when during debates.
However, Mr Christensen has spoken out on a range of policy issues, including repeatedly threatening to cross the floor and back Labor’s proposal for a royal commission into the banking sector.
He has also threatened to resign from the LNP because of his unhappiness with the government’s policy agenda, in particular its failure to resolve a dispute with sugar growers in his north Queensland electorate of Dawson.
The increasingly prominent MP said he had “resigned as chief whip of the Nationals effective 5pm Thursday”.
“I realised my constant outspokenness was incompatible with the position in the long term. It was my decision alone and I wasn’t pushed. [Deputy Prime Minister] Barnaby [Joyce] was going to back me in either way,” he said.
“It doesn’t signal anything else.”
Mr Christensen’s claim that he is not poised to quit government ranks is unlikely to do much to calm the government’s nerves.
As recently as Monday evening, he told Sky News it was “possible” he could one day join One Nation.
“That’s a hypothetical, that, you know, possible, possible but, you know, I’m in the National Party and . . . I’m in the National Party today and I will be in the National Party tomorrow. I mean, you know, anything is possible.”
On other occasions, however, he has dismissed suggestions he could defect from the Liberal National Party and join Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, citing personal loyalty to Mr Joyce.
A Nationals source confirmed Mr Christensen had sat down with Mr Joyce and the pair had jointly agreed he could not continue as whip while regularly criticising his own side of politics.
“I was not pushed by anyone,” Mr Christensen said.
“However I did feel some of my colleagues may have been aggrieved that the enforcer of discipline was being somewhat ill-disciplined himself.”
Mr Joyce subsequently told Sky News that “if he was going to jump [to One Nation], he would come and say [it] to me” and the resignation was not the first step towards Mr Christensen quitting the LNP.
“I’ll ask myself the question you should ask me. Has George said to you you he might go to One nation? Have you asked if he is loyal to the Nationals party and wants to stick around with his mates in the National Party? Yes he has and yes he does want to stick around. That is really all, that’s where it resides.”
Nationals MP Damian Drum, a former minister in the Victorian state government, is tipped to be Mr Christensen’s replacement.
Earlier this month, the Liberal Party was rocked by the resignation of Senator Cory Bernardi, who moved to the crossbench and announced he planned to establish a new “n Conservatives” party.
A ReachTEL poll commissioned by the progressive Institute and released earlier this week found that the One Nation primary vote had risen to 30 per cent – equal to that of the LNP – in Dawson.
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