Chester returns to the front bench

Guess who's back: Gippsland MP Darren Chester with federal Nationals leader David Littleproud. Mr Chester has returned to the Coalition's frontbench for the first time since 2021. file photograph

Staff Writers

FEDERAL MP Darren Chester has returned to the Coalition’s front-bench for the first time since 2021.

The Member for Gippsland has been appointed as Shadow Minister for Regional Education, Regional Development, Local Government and Territories.

Mr Chester was previously Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel in the Morrison government, before losing the portfolios in a cabinet reshuffle.

He has been elevated to his new roles at the expense of the Member for Calare, Andrew Gee, who resigned from the National Party over its stance on a Voice to Parliament.

In a statement, Mr Chester welcomed the confidence shown in him by the federal leader of The Nationals, David Littleproud, and pledged to “work constructively to achieve positive outcomes for all regional Australians.”

“Wherever possible, I will work in a bipartisan way with the responsible Ministers but will have no hesitation in highlighting areas for improvement as we develop the Coalition’s policies in consultation with communities and stakeholders across Australia,” he said.

“Small town Australia needs big voices in Federal Parliament.”

Mr Chester said he would bring his experience in government and opposition to the new role and focus on delivering polices, programs, infrastructure and services that improve the lives of people who choose to live outside the capital cities.

“We need to keep investing in regional education for our youth to achieve their full potential as tradespeople, running their own business or farm, or undertaking tertiary studies,” he said.

“We have already made access to university more affordable for students forced to move away from the regions, now we need to improve access to tertiary studies in our own communities.”

Mr Chester said the previous government understood the need to improve regional transport and telecommunication connectivity, while also investing in the liveability of country communities, to attract and retain skilled workers.

“Long-term and sustainable jobs are fundamental to regional development and growth. We need to keep adding value and creating new opportunities in our traditional industries across regional Australia, while also supporting investment in emerging industries,” he said.

“That means more people working on the ground in regional Australia to control feral animals and weeds, undertake bushfire protection and prevention activities, support disaster resilience, and practical action to improve water quality in our lakes and rivers.”

Mr Chester said over the past 20 years in Gippsland, there had been a reduction in the workforce to undertake practical environmental work and an explosion in the city-based bureaucrats writing reports.

“As the custodians of a vast public land estate, we need to be training a local workforce and providing more career opportunities in natural resource management, disaster prevention, and ecotourism in regional areas across our nation,” he said.

In November, Mr Littleproud and his fellow party members announced that The Nationals would not be supporting a constitutionally-enshrined Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

Their position was widely criticised by commentators at the time, with First Nations activist and lawyer Noel Pearson accusing Mr Littleproud of being “incapable of the leadership that’s necessary for the country and for his party”.

Mr Chester, who was in New York when the announcement was made, has publicly supported his party’s stance.

“The Nationals believe the Voice, as it is currently proposed, will not advance the primary aim of Closing the Gap and dealing with real issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Mr Chester wrote in a Facebook post last month.

“It will not economically empower people and sadly, I fear it could widen divisions which already exist in our nation.”

Mr Gee, who was also not present for The Nationals’ announcement, has confirmed that he continues to support a Voice.

Mr Chester has previously said that Mr Gee should resign from parliament and stand again in a by-election as an independent candidate.