Nationals infighting is threatening to derail Malcolm Turnbull's cabinet refresh, after Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce made a "captain's call" decision to dump his Nationals colleagues Darren Chester and Keith Pitt.
The long-awaited reshuffle has seen five people appointed to the expanded 23-member cabinet, including rookie Queensland federal MPs David Littleproud and John McVeigh, in a move designed to woo voters in the key battleground state.
Underscoring the breadth of the larger than expected reshuffle, another six cabinet ministers either swapped portfolios or picked up extra responsibilities, meaning just under half the cabinet was changed.
Mr Littleproud becomes the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, while Mr McVeigh - who had served in the Queensland state government as a minister - becomes Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government. Both were first elected just 18 months ago.
The other three promotions to cabinet are Victorian Liberal Dan Tehan, who becomes Social Services Minister; WA Liberal Michael Keenan, who joins him as Human Services Minister and Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation; and the new Nationals deputy leader, Victorian Bridget McKenzie, who becomes Minister for Sport, Rural Health and Regional Communications.
But it is the shock demotion of Mr Chester and Mr Pitt, which leaked out ahead of Mr Turnbull's formal announcement, that has infuriated Nationals MPs.
The decision to overlook outer ministry member Michael McCormack for promotion in favour of the political novice Mr Littleproud also left MPs baffled.
Mr Chester did the numbers for Senator McKenzie in the recent contest for deputy leader; all three opposed Mr Joyce's pick of senator Matt Canavan, and some Nationals MPs suggested the move was "payback" from Mr Joyce.
As one Nationals MP put it, "Barnaby can't continue to do stupid things like this", describing it as a "captain's call".
A Liberal cabinet minister said the dumping of infrastructure and transport minister Mr Chester had been brutal. Another Liberal said, "He's [Mr Joyce] basically just said you are my enemy, you are out," to Mr Chester and Mr Pitt, who goes from a junior trade role to the backbench.
The Prime Minister confirmed Mr Joyce had made the call to dump the pair.
"Plainly, the Nationals have a very large component of their party room [that] comes from Queensland. And Barnaby was keen to see that reflected in their representatives in the cabinet," he said.
"I have to say Darren [Chester] has been an outstanding minister. I regret that this has resulted in him no longer being a member of the ministry."
Some Nationals insisted the move was fair as Victoria was not entitled to two cabinet spots when the party had just four MPs in Parliament from that state. There are eight Queensland Nationals MPs and the state now receives two cabinet posts.
A disappointed Mr Chester said being dumped was "character building" and that he had had several conversations with Mr Turnbull and Mr Joyce in the previous 24 hours.
"Barnaby Joyce offered me an assistant minister role as they call them these days. I chose to reflect on that overnight and advised both the PM and the Deputy PM I didn't intend to take that offer," he said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the demotion of Mr Chester proved "the civil war which is a fact of life in the Liberal Party has now infected the National Party". ???
The reshuffle emphases the Prime Minister's determination to concentrate on two key messages in 2018 - the economy, and national security.
"That's our priority for 2018; more investment, more jobs, better jobs, more money in the pockets of hardworking Australian families and businesses," Mr Turnbull said.???
Other key moves in the reshuffle include Social Services Minister Christian Porter replacing George Brandis as Attorney-General. Mr Brandis will move to London in January to replace Alexander Downer as high commissioner.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has been given the super portfolio of Minister for Jobs and Innovation, taking key aspects of Arthur Sinodinos' portfolio as he steps aside to fight cancer. She also joins the powerful expenditure review committee.
Mr Joyce takes over Infrastructure, which gives him oversight of the Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail project, while he keeps responsibility for dams policy. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann becomes Senate leader and adds Special Minister of State.
Revenue Minister Kelly O'Dwyer has added responsibility for Women, while Peter Dutton will finally begin work in the new super portfolio of Home Affairs, which brings together police and security agencies such as the federal police, spy agency ASIO, Border Force and Immigration.
In the outer ministry, Craig Laundy has been promoted to Small Business and Workplace Relations, Angus Taylor has been promoted to Law Enforcement and Cyber Security.
Alan Tudge moved sideways into Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs and remains in the outer ministry, as does Michael McCormack, who becomes Veterans Affairs and Defence Materiel Minister.
Paul Fletcher, tipped for promotion to cabinet, remains in the Urban Infrastructure portfolio. Former cabinet minister Sussan Ley and junior minister Stuart Robert, tipped by some for promotion, both missed out completely.
The new Turnbull ministry
Prime Minister - Malcolm Turnbull
Deputy Prime Minister and Infrastructure and Transport Minister - Barnaby Joyce
Treasurer - Scott Morrison
Foreign Minister - Julie Bishop
Attorney-General - Christian Porter
Home Affairs Minister - Peter Dutton
Sport, Rural Health and Regional Communications Minister - Bridget McKenzie
Human Services Minister and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Digital Transformations - Michael Keenan
Social Services Minister - Dan Tehan
Agriculture and Water Minister - David Littleproud
Regional Development, Territories and Local Government Minister - John McVeigh
Indigenous Affairs Minister - Nigel Scullion
Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister - Steve Ciobo
Finance Minister and Special Minister of State - Mathias Cormann
Revenue and Financial Services Minister and Minister for Women - Kelly O'Dwyer
Defence Industry Minister - Christopher Pyne
Defence Minister - Marise Payne
Resources and Northern Australia Minister - Matt Canavan
Energy and Environment Minister - Josh Frydenberg
Health Minister - Greg Hunt
Communications and Arts Minister - Mitch Fifield
Jobs and Innovation Minister - Michaelia Cash
Education and Training Minister - Simon Birmingham
Minister for Urban Infrastructure - Paul Fletcher
Minister for International Development and the Pacific - Concetta Fierravanti-Wells
Minister for Small and Family Business, Workplaces and Deregulation - Craig Laundy
Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security - Angus Taylor
Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs - Alan Tudge
Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel - Michael McCormack
Aged Care and Indigenous Health Minister - Ken Wyatt
Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister - James McGrath
Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister - Damian Drum
Assistant Minister to the Treasurer - Michael Sukkar
Assistant Minister for Finance - David Coleman
Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment - Luke Hartsuyker
Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs - Zed Seselja
Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources - Anne Ruston
Assistant Minister for Vocational Skills and Training - Karen Andrews
Assistant Minister for Children and Families - David Gillespie
Assistant Minister for Immigration - Alex Hawke
Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services - Jane Prentice
Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation - Zed Seselja
Assistant Minister for Environment - Melissa Price
The story Nationals split as Joyce makes 'captain's call' to dump colleagues first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.