Nats’ open arms for rogue MP

Craig Kelly’s defection from the Liberal Party could see a tug of war for his services, with Nationals MPs saying they would welcome the MP with open arms.

Barnaby Joyce says he would welcome rogue MP Craig Kelly into the Nationals, but faces a challenge with One Nation also admirers of the new independent.

Mr Kelly quit the Liberal Party for the crossbench on Tuesday, saying the move was necessary to speak his mind on controversial COVID-19 treatments, views that go against government advice.

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce, a close friend of the new independent, was in Mr Kelly’s office as his resignation was announced.

Mr Joyce confirmed the pair had discussed Mr Kelly joining the Nationals, saying he would be welcomed with open arms.

“I would love him to be in the National party but that’s really a decision for Craig. I’m not going to start pushing somebody one direction or the other,” he told Sky News.

RELATED: Rogue MP Craig Kelly quits Liberals

Mr Joyce said he understood One Nation had also made overtures to Mr Kelly, but leader Pauline Hanson hosed down that claim.

“Craig and I are on the same page with a lot of issues but there’s been no formal approach at all from One Nation,” she told NCA NewsWire.

Mr Joyce’s stance was backed by fellow Nationals backbencher Matt Canavan, who said he would “love to have more people in our party”.

He confirmed he had previously discussed the move with Mr Kelly.

Mr Canavan said he did not think new independent joining One Nation was likely, given he “came up” through the Liberal Party.

“If he joined the Nationals, at least it’s still being the joint party room and Coalition,” he told Sky News.

“Going to a completely separate party? I find that unlikely, but that’s a matter for Craig.”

Mr Canavan and Mr Joyce were heavily involved in a leadership stoush in February last year, when the former resigned from the frontbench to support the latter’s move against leader Michael McCormack.

Mr Joyce was not certain Mr McCormack would welcome Mr Kelly into the fold.

“I’m not here to speak for other people. I’ll never able to speak for my colleagues; they can speak for themselves,” he said.

Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie said “the door was always open” for Mr Kelly, despite his “unorthodox” views on COVID-19.

“We’re always looking for ways to grow the National party, and Craig over the years has joined with our party to fight on a number of fronts,” she told Sky News.

“There is a lot of synergy with Craig’s view of the world and what we come to Canberra to fight for.”

Mr Kelly’s defection has cut the government’s majority in the lower house to a single vote.

He pledged to grant the government supply, but told Sky News he would make a decision over his party affiliation after the next election.

Mr Joyce described keeping Mr Kelly within the Coalition as a “tactically smart” decision.

“Just look at the numbers, fellas,” Mr Joyce said.

“If you don’t want a number in the Coalition and prefer it on the crossbench or somewhere else, I suppose that’s a part you can go down.

“But I think I’ve been around this building long enough to say a majority of two is better than a majority of one.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was blindsided by the defection, told reporters in Canberra he did not expect Mr Kelly to make the move.


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