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Nats leader spilled after $315k job bungle

NSW POLICE FORCE
Paul Toole has lost his leadership of the NSW Nationals. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gaye Gerard

Paul Toole has lost the leadership of the NSW Nationals Party in a party room spill and will be replaced by Dubbo MP Dugald Saunders, just a month after he was re-elected leader following the state election.

The shock ouster of the Mr Toole follows a messy internal saga in which Nationals MP Ben Franklin was blasted by senior Coalition members for breaking ranks to secure a high-paid parliamentary job as president of the Legislative Council.

Mr Franklin later claimed he had told Mr Toole about the job and he had encouraged him to run.

“I’m frustrated because Paul hasn’t been honest about what took place here,” Mr Franklin told The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday.

“I thought the leader of the party was happy with it, and I was acting under that assumption.”

On Monday afternoon, Mr Franklin confirmed he would officially nominate himself for the job once parliament resumes sitting on Tuesday.

NSW POLICE FORCE
NSW Nationals leader Paul Toole faced a leadership spill on Monday afternoon. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Gaye Gerard

Announcing his leadership, Mr Saunders said while he had not expected he would become the leader of the NSW Nationals at the start of the day, he will continue work to become an advocate for “regional areas”.

Bronnie Taylor will continue as the Nationals NSW Deputy Leader, alongside Sarah Mitchell as the Upper House Leader and party whip, Ganesh Singh.

“This has been an extremely difficult 24 hours and I think what I’m looking forward to now is doing the job that we know the NSW Nationals are here to do,” Mr Saunders said.

“We have a very important job to do now and that is to put all things that have been happening for the past couple of weeks behind us. We need to move forward.”

NSW QUESTION TIME
Dugald Saunders has successfully challenged Paul Toole as the NSW Nationals Leader. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Christian Gilles

Mr Saunders confirmed he had met with Liberal Leader Mark Speakman and will reconvene with the rest of the Nationals party in relation to the remainder of the shadow ministry.

In his role as party leader, Mr Saunders will take on a shadow portfolio and flagged there would be some “minor changes”.

“There’s probably a little bit of paper shuffling to do around some of the particulars of certain shadow portfolios,” he said.

“That will hopefully evolve later on this afternoon and tomorrow.”

SXSW SYDNEY LAUNCH
Ben Franklin said he had consulted Mr Toole prior to reports he would nominate himself for the role of president of the Legislative Council. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper

‘It’s a joke:’ Saunders blasts messy internal drama

The newly elected NSW Nationals leader admitted that the party room politics will leave a bad impression with voters.

“They’ll think it’s a joke. It’s ridiculous, it’s unfortunate,” he said.

However, he vowed the party would change and Monday would mark the “end of what we’ll see as having been a really difficult time”.

“People don’t want to see us talking about ourselves. We know that, everyone knows that. My pledge is from tomorrow we start getting on with the job.”

He said he believed the Nationals needed to make “some changes” after the party recorded the lowest level of primary votes since World War II.

“People have really forgotten what the Nats stand for,” he said.

“We are a modern party that represents modern people. That’s young people, that’s women and men, that’s professionals, that’s doctors, nurses, and teachers.”

Franklin’s future with Nats uncertain

Mr Saunders also said they will “not be supporting” Mr Franklin in his nomination for the Legislative Council presidency, and would not speak on his future within the party.

In his statement, Mr Franklin said it was his “intention” to remain with the Nationals.

“Let’s wait and see if he’s elected first of all and then we do have some decisions to make both as a parliamentary party room and as a greater NSW Nationals party,” said Mr Saunders.

Mr Toole previously maintained he had asked Mr Franklin not to run for the position so the MP could retain his vote in the upper house.

He also said the party had moved “a very strong motion” that no Nationals or Liberal Party member to nominate themselves for the position.

“Every person on the floor of the parliament is going to be critical to hold the government to account,” Mr Toole said.

“The community is doing it tough right now and they want to know that the opposition is focusing on them and supporting them with everyday things like cost of living.”

Opposition Leader Mark Speakman told 2GB last week it was an “act of treachery” for an elected member to “turn their back on those voters”.