From The Australian (reproduced in full):
NATIONALS Senate Leader Barnaby Joyce will challenge party veteran Bruce Scott for his lower-house seat of Maranoa with the aim of becoming deputy prime minister.
In pressing his case to contest the sprawling western Queensland seat, Senator Joyce is expected to argue that his seniority within Coalition ranks means he could represent the constituency in a future Coalition cabinet.
Mr Scott, a 22-year veteran and Howard government minister who turns 69 later this year, has so far insisted he wants to contest the next election.
Preselections have not yet opened, as Queensland’s Liberal National Party put federal considerations on ice while focusing on the state election campaign.
One senior source told The Australian yesterday the state result would “clear space for us to talk about Barnaby”, amid a desire across the federal Coalition for facilitation of his proposed move to the House of Representatives.
The Nationals have been speculating for about a year about moving Senator Joyce to the lower house to position him to succeed current party leader Warren Truss, who is 64 this year.
Senator Joyce, the Coalition’s water and regional development spokesman, is widely acknowledged as one of the Coalition’s best political communicators at least when he is addressing rural and regional audiences and has developed a good working relationship with Tony Abbott.
Mr Scott was unavailable yesterday.
Senator Joyce, who lives in the town of St George, which is in Maranoa, told The Australian he had made no secret of his desire to serve in the House of Representatives. “My first preference is where I live Maranoa,” he said. “My second preference is where I grew up (the northern NSW seat of New England, held by independent Tony Windsor). We are at least a year from an election and I will assess my options at the time pre-selections are called.”
Despite Senator Joyce’s diplomatic comments, LNP insiders have told The Australian they expect him to press hard to take Maranoa in a pre-selection ballot if Mr Scott does not change his mind and retire.
Senator Joyce’s supporters argue that Mr Scott is unlikely to return to the frontbench, while Senator Joyce could represent Maranoa as deputy prime minister in the future.
LNP sources said yesterday the party would spend the next few weeks focused on local government elections in Queensland before moving to federal pre-selections.
Tony Abbott has not given any indication of a preference between Mr Scott and Senator Joyce, telling colleagues the issue is a matter for the LNP.
However, it is understood the Opposition Leader and Senator Joyce are close allies, with Mr Abbott relying heavily on his Queensland colleague on policy formulation.
In recent months, Liberal backbenchers have complained that Mr Abbott gives Senator Joyce and other Nationals greater freedom to talk about policy than he does his Liberal colleagues.