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The Age

Nats get some coaching tips

Author: Richard Baker
Date: 10/12/2002
Words: 326
          Publication: The Age
Section: News
Page: 2
The Victorian National Party yesterday installed two high-profile new MPs in parliamentary leadership positions.

After claiming victory in North-Western Province and delivering the VicNats the 11 seats required for party status, former AFL coach and player Damian Drum was elected deputy leader in the upper house.

Former Victorian Farmers Federation president Peter Walsh won a ballot of National MPs to become deputy leader to Peter Ryan, who was re-elected unopposed as leader, stating ``We are very positive about the future for the party."

Gippsland MP Peter Hall will continue as the party's leader in the upper house. Mr Drum, who appears to have fought off a challenge by Labor's Marg Lewis to win his seat, said he was surprised to be elected to the leadership team.

But he said was looking forward to helping ``invigorate and rejuvenate" the party, which polled only about 4.5 per cent of the primary vote.

``At the end of the day, it is whatever the party thinks is right. I'm happy to step up," Mr Drum said.

Because the VicNats retained party status, they can elect a leader and a deputy in the upper house, where they hold four seats. Under parliamentary rules, their upper house leader gets a higher salary, a car and a driver. But the deputy does not appear to enjoy extra benefits.

Mr Walsh, who replaced retired VicNats MP Barry Steggall as the member for Swan Hill, also succeeded Mr Steggall as deputy leader.

Mr Ryan said he was delighted with the party's performance in the election, in which it dropped from 12 seats to 11. ``The headline was supposed to be the National Party was going to be destroyed," he said.

``The VicNats polled well, which is testament to the fact that country Victorians do feel the need for a specialist party representing their interests in parliament."

He ruled out a coalition with the Liberals during the next parliamentary term.

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