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New New South Wales Nationals chairman Dugald Saunders will seek to shift the party’s branding away from “straw sucking in a paddock” to win back young professional voters after his predecessor was ousted in a party meeting.

Paul Toole was ousted as party leader on Monday, giving the Nationals less than 24 hours to redraw their coalition deal before Parliament meets for the first time since the state election in March, which put Labor in the minority government.

The Liberals also met on Monday and voted to change the party’s rules to allow Member of the House of Lords and former Minister Natalie Ward to become their new deputy leader.

Saunders said the National Party had not performed strongly in the election and needed to evolve to remind voters what it stood for.

“We’re kidding ourselves if we think it’s the same old, same old,” the Dubbo MP said.

“I’m not the same person as Paul Toole and I do things differently and I hope that will take other people on the journey.”

Saunders must rebuild the party damaged by former Arts Secretary Ben Franklin’s decision to run for President of the House of Lords with the support of Prime Minister Chris Minns.

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Franklin’s decision drew public criticism from coalition MPs, including Toole, who said it was “disturbing” and a betrayal of the party. Opposition leader Mark Speakman called it “treacherous”.

On Monday, however, Franklin contradicted Toole’s public version of events, insisting the now-former leader knew he was seeking the position and had encouraged him to do so.

“At one point he said if the Liberals don’t want you to do it, I think you should do it anyway because it’s really good for us,” Franklin told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The revelation left several Nationals outraged and led to the election of the leadership.

Saunders has spoken to Franklin and will “wait and see if he gets elected first” before committing to expelling him from the Parliament party.

The position will be voted on Tuesday, as will the position of Speaker of the House of Commons, for which independent Greg Piper is expected to be comfortably elected.

Speakman said Franklin’s decision was a “very clear case of someone taking the money and running away” and acting out of self-interest.

“The greatest sanction for someone like that is not the threat of deportation, not the threat of someone referring them to Icac, but the destruction of their own reputation and their conscience for the rest of their lives,” he said.

As part of the draft coalition deal, Toole had claimed the police portfolio, but that is expected to change – possibly switch to a Liberal – under the reformulated deal, hopefully finalized before the start of the 58th Parliament on Tuesday.

Saunders met with the party room again late Monday afternoon to finalize details before meeting with Speakman again.

The Nationals drama overshadowed a major success story for the Liberals, as the party voted overwhelmingly to change the rules to allow a member of the House of Lords to run for deputy and nominated Ward to the role.

NSW’s longest-serving Liberal woman has long been touted as the party’s future, although several attempts to see her rise through the ranks have been blocked internally.

Labor plans to use the first week of Parliament to introduce legislation to protect Sydney Water from privatization and reform tenancy laws.


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