2 Australian minor parties to elect new leaders

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian Greens leader Richard Di Natale announced on Monday he is quitting politics to give a new leader of his environmentally-focused minority party an opportunity to expose government failings during the nation’s wildfire crisis.

Di Natale’s surprise resignation means that both the Greens and the government’s junior coalition party, the Nationals, will elect new leaders when Parliament resumes for the first time this year on Tuesday.

Di Natale, a 49-year-old senator, said there was no single reason why be had decided to resign on Monday as party leader. He listed among the factors behind his decision his desire to spend more time with his family and his concern about leaving his wildfire-prone home in Victoria state to sit in Parliament.

“We have as a nation just endured one of the most horrific events in the nation’s history,” Di Natale told reporters at Parliament House, referring to wildfires that have killed at least 33 people and destroyed more than 3,000 homes since September.

“This is now an opportunity for a new leader to step up at a time when the nation’s focus is on this place and to really demonstrate that we are a party brimming with talent, where a new leader can stamp their authority over a government that has been catastrophic in their failures to respond to this horrendous crisis,” Di Natale added.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government has been accused of being too slow to respond to the wildfire crisis and of not doing enough to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie resigned from Cabinet on Sunday for breaching ministerial rules by failing to declare she was a member of a gun club that she gave a government grant of 36,000 Australian dollars ($24,100).

Her resignation means Nationals lawmakers will meet to elect a new deputy party leader around the same time that the Greens choose their own new leader.

But former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said on Monday he would nominate for his old job if both the positions of party leader and deputy leader are put to a vote.

Nationals leader Michael McCormack said he did not expect his position would be put to a vote, but was confident of defeating any challenge.

Whoever leads the Nationals becomes deputy prime minister and acts as prime minister when Morrison is overseas.

Both the Nationals leader and deputy leader are also guaranteed seats in Cabinet.

Joyce had not been a minister since he quit as Nationals leader in 2018 over controversy surrounding him having a child with a former staffer and allegations that he had sexually harassed another woman.

The first day of Parliament on Tuesday will be dominated by debates about the unprecedented wildfire that is devastating Australia's southeast.

Di Natale said he would quit the Senate once his party had selected a replacement senator.

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