FORMER cabinet minister Ian Macfarlane’s defection to the National party has been blocked by the Queensland executive of the LNP.
Mr Macfarlane’s switch from the Liberals to the Nationals was supported by members of his Groom federal divisional council who voted 102 in support and 35 against at a meeting in Toowoomba at the weekend.
But a meeting of the LNP executive in Brisbane today voted against the move.
The seat of Groom is nominated as a Liberal electorate under the agreement between the two parties for a merged entity in Queensland.
Mr Macfarlane spoke to media briefly after the meeting and was asked if he believed it was unusual for the LNP executive to overrule a decision made by grass roots members.
He said the LNP was a grass roots party and “that’s an issue which the executive will no doubt answer to the members in Groom who, as I say, voted overwhelmingly to support my change of party room in Canberra”.
Mr Macfarlane said he was disappointed with the executive’s decisions and would now consider his options after speaking to family over the Christmas period.
He said he was not yet ready to retire from working and as a long-serving resources minister could pursue a future in that sector.
Mr Macfarlane said his local divisional members had accepted his view that changing party rooms was the best way to represent their interests but rejected an assertion he’d miscalculated the plan.
He said the Turnbull cabinet was under-represented in terms of Queensland’s regional interests and the move was the best way to address that imbalance while stressing he remained a member of the LNP.
In a statement released after the meeting, LNP president Gary Spence said the decision was made after considering the party’s best interests.
“While LNP members of the Groom electorate voted to support Mr Macfarlane's decision, the interests of our party beyond his electorate were taken into account,” Mr Spence said.
“In rejecting Ian's request to move to the Nationals' partyroom, the LNP acknowledges his enormous contribution to our party and importantly to the people of Groom and Australia.”
Mr Macfarlane backed Malcom Turnbull when he took over from Tony Abbott as Prime Minister in mid-September - but was angered at being left out of the new-look cabinet despite the new PM’s claim the Queensland MP was a good friend.
Speaking to media after today's lengthy meeting, Mr Spence declined to say what the final numbers were in the vote on Mr Macfarlane’s proposed defection to the Nationals but conceded it was “very close”.
He said the LNP executive were concerned about doing the right thing by the rank and file members of Groom but also had to consider the party’s best interests over all 30 seats.
Mr Spence said Mr Macfarlane had been a tremendous servant to the people of Queensland and Australia over many years and the meeting also had to consider the MP’s future contribution in parliament which he hoped would continue.
“Ian went about it the way that was appropriate for Ian - but at the end of the day the LNP had to consider what was best for not only the LNP but also for Queensland and the Australian federal government,” he said.
“Ian’s still capable of making a tremendous contribution going forward just like he has over the last 17 years.”
National party members have been contacted but so far declined to comment.
Mr Macfarlane's potential move aimed at recapturing a cabinet position was unveiled on the final parliamentary sitting day for 2015 but sparked a bitter response from Mr Macfarlane’s Liberal colleagues.
Reports say Mr Macfarlane is now expected to retire from Parliament at or before the 2016 federal election.