Victorian senator Bridget McKenzie has been elected the new deputy leader of the Nationals, replacing Fiona Nash who was forced out of parliament because of her dual citizenship status.
Leader Barnaby Joyce, back in parliament after also being disqualified by the High Court over his New Zealand citizenship and reclaiming his New England seat in a by-election, said his new deputy deserved elevation.
‘‘The view of our colleagues is that Bridget McKenzie deserves one of the highest offices now held in the land,’’ he said.
Senator McKenzie said the Murray-Darling Basin Plan would continue to be a key concern for her home state and the National Party.
‘‘I have always championed the views of Victorian irrigators throughout my six years in the Senate and I won’t stop just because I’m the deputy leader of the Nationals. In fact, I’ll have a larger voice to ensure that the needs of our irrigators in northern and central Victoria are heard and acted upon,’’ she said.
‘‘We need to have confidence that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan implementation is proceeding in a manner that ensures there’s no negative socio-economic impacts. That’s my number one concern.’’
But Senator McKenzie stopped short of backing growing calls to pause the basin plan.
However, her election might cost one of her colleagues a place in cabinet if, as expected, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promotes her to the government’s frontbench.
The Nationals, under an agreement with the Liberals, are entitled to four seats at the cabinet table.
Mr Joyce was reluctant to speculate about the future of existing cabinet ministers Matt Canavan, Nigel Scullion and Darren Chester.
‘‘All these things will be discussed,’’ he said.
Senator McKenzie said she was interested in a ministry that delivered ‘‘tangible outcomes for regional Australians ... Whatever that may be’’.
Following on from ACCC investigations into the beef and dairy industries, Senator McKenzie said she was looking forward to the beef industry implementing the recommendations, and was ‘‘buoyed’’ by the ACCC’s recommendations for the dairy industry, including greater transparency and power for dairy farmers.
However, she said, concerns regarding water and power continued to be a key part of the conversation.
‘‘There’s a lot going on for Victorian producers but making sure they have access to reliable and affordable water and reliable and affordable energy will do a lot to ensure their future,’’ Senator McKenzie said.
Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh congratulated Senator McKenzie on her election, labelling her a ‘‘determined advocate’’ and said she would be a strong voice for regional Victoria.