A surprise political play could see the Nationals gain more power in Queensland and take Senator Matt Canavan a step closer to the leadership.
A surprise political play could see the Nationals gain more power in Queensland and take Senator Matt Canavan a step closer to the leadership.

Electoral manoeuvre that could give Qld a deputy PM

The blue-ribbon federal Liberal seat of Groom could be switched to the Nationals for the first time in over 30 years in dramatic political manoeuvring, potentially paving the way for future Nationals leadership aspirant Matt Canavan to move to the Lower House.

It could shift the power dynamic right through to Canberra, giving the Nationals an extra seat in the Coalition and potentially a new frontbench position.

The surprise development follows the shock resignation of LNP Member for Groom John McVeigh due to his wife's illness, sparking an upcoming by-election.

A branch vote in Groom could clear the way for Senator Matt Canavan to switch to the lower house. Picture: Matt Taylor
A branch vote in Groom could clear the way for Senator Matt Canavan to switch to the lower house. Picture: Matt Taylor

At a late Friday meeting of the LNP state executive, the Nationals scored a win to allow the party branch members of Groom - which is centred on Toowoomba - to choose whether the new member will sit with the Nationals or Liberals.

The LNP is one party, but its MPs and senators sit with the Liberal or National Party in Canberra.

There is precedent for Groom to move back to the Nationals.

When its former MP Ian Macfarlane attempted to defect to the Liberals this was backed by the branch, but blocked by the state executive.

Mr McVeigh's father Tom held the seat for the Nationals from 1972 to 1988, including when it was originally called Darling Downs.

A branch vote could be held within 24 hours, or as late as Monday.

The Nationals leader, who is deputy prime minister when the Coalition is in Government, must sit in the House of Representatives.

There has long been speculation that Senator Canavan would one day make the switch from the Senate.

While there is a push from within the party for Senator Canavan to run, he has said it remains "unlikely", as he is living in central Queensland with a young family, but has not ruled it out.

It is understood Prime Minister Scott Morrison is favouring a woman to win the preselection for the highly sought-after safe Coalition seat, but it is a matter for the LNP and he is not involved.

Toowoomba city councillor Rebecca Vonhoff is considered a contender, while former Senator Barry O'Sullivan's son, also named Barry O'Sullivan, is also in contention, as well as businessmen Garth Hamilton and Shane Charles.

Toowoomba Regional Councillor Rebecca Vonhoff is one of the likely contenders for the Groom LNP preselection.
Toowoomba Regional Councillor Rebecca Vonhoff is one of the likely contenders for the Groom LNP preselection.

While there had been earlier speculation about Senator Canavan, he could not make the switch while the seat was designated for the Liberals under the LNP rules.

He told The Courier-Mail last week he had been contacted about running, but was happy living in central Queensland and a move was "not likely".

If the Nationals secure Groom and Llew O'Brien, who left the Nationals after a leadership spill in February, returns to the party, it would likely give them the numbers needed in the party room to gain an additional frontbench position.

Other names talked about for the seat are Senator James McGrath, who faces a tight Senate preselection battle with Senator Amanda Stoker, while LNP vice-president Cam O'Neill had previously been talked about but has ruled out a run.

A date for the by-election has yet to be set.


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