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I will fight for the people we represent: Nationals Deputy Leader, Fiona Nash -

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MATT WORDSWORTH, PRESENTER: Barnaby Joyce was unchallenged in yesterday's National party room ballot, the competition for the deputy leadership was fierce. The winner was Senator Fiona Nash, currently serving the Turnbull Government as Minister for Rural Health. She becomes the first woman in the Nationals Deputy role, but it comes as the Coalition has lost two of its most respected ministers to retirement and three others mired in scandal. Fiona Nash joined me a short time ago.

Fiona Nash, congratulations on the deputy leadership. Some people have said Barnaby Joyce is a maverick, some people have said that you've got the talent of being the Barnaby whisperer. What do you make of that description?

FIONA NASH, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE NATIONALS: That's a very interesting description. Barnaby and I have worked together for 10 years. We came into the Senate at the same time in 2005, so we've had a very close working relationship and we do respect each other's views and I'm looking forward to working with him as part of the leadership team.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Does that mean you can kind of corral him, keep him in line as the Deputy?

FIONA NASH: I don't think anybody can corral Barnaby at any point in time, but we do have a good respect for each other's views and I think that will be a very good basis going forward as a leadership team.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Now as Deputy, it appears that you'll get an elevation, a promotion,. Is there any particular spot in the cabinet you are looking for - Agriculture, perhaps?

FIONA NASH: I'm very happy to serve wherever Barnaby as the leader thinks is appropriate. All of those portfolio areas I'm sure that will be landed on will be portfolio areas that will deliver very strongly for our rural and regional communities.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Now it's been a tumultuous week for the Government. Stuart Robert has resigned from the ministry. Do you think he should have gone?

FIONA NASH: Look, he has indicated that he doesn't wish to be considered in the reshuffle process and that's really the end of the matter.

MATT WORDSWORTH: You've already got two ministers who've quit, another stood aside, two have retired. Fair to say it's been a pretty tough start to the year, an election year?

FIONA NASH: Well it's certainly been a year where we've had a couple of events happen, but people are really focused on how positive the Government is. Malcolm Turnbull as the Prime Minister has a very strong vision for the future of the nation about getting people to work and invest in our communities, about growing the economy, about making sure we look after people when it comes to more health professionals, particularly out in the regions and we'll continue to do that.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Just on Malcolm Turnbull, in 2008 you were dumped from the shadow ministry over crossing the floor over carbon sinks. Has that affected your relationship with Malcolm Turnbull at all?

FIONA NASH: Not at all. I have a very strong relationship with the Prime Minister. We worked closely as I and Michael Keenan were finalising the $300 million package to tackle ice across the country, which we know is devastating communities, particularly in rural and regional areas, and we worked very closely with that and I'm looking forward to working with him as part of the leadership team.

MATT WORDSWORTH: As then in 2008, do you see in the future will there be any need or will you cross the floor if you feel as strongly on an issue now?

FIONA NASH: We certainly work very strongly as the Coalition. We will not back away as the Nationals for making sure that we fight for those people out there in the bush that need us to represent them. We represent some of the most disadvantaged people across the nation. We'll continue to do that. I certainly don't foresee difficulties, but of course it's a hypothetical question. As the Nationals, we will remain absolutely committed to ensure that we build strong rural and regional communities so that our children and our grandchildren want to stay in or come back to those communities.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Now the Federal Government's policy of the backpack attacks involves from July charging backpackers 32.5 cents in the dollar on anything that they earn. That's sort of wiping out the tax-free threshold that they used to have. Now I know some national MPs have concerns about that. Do you have any?

FIONA NASH: Well this has certainly been raised with me as an issue across regional communities. I've made sure that those concerns have been passed on and the issue's being considered.

MATT WORDSWORTH: So why is it such a concern? Is there a fear that the backpackers won't be there as a workforce for farmers if all of a sudden they've got almost a third of their income taxed?

FIONA NASH: Well across rural and regional communities there are in various regions times when workforce isn't readily available and people do need to look to backpackers to fill that workforce void. But these are issues that are raised with us and we'll discuss them.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Well it comes internally, doesn't it? Senator Matt Canavan, one of your national colleagues from Queensland, is saying that perhaps we should be looking at a middle ground of 15 cents. How do you feel about that? Do you have a position on it?

FIONA NASH: I've certainly discussed that with Matt and with others and as the Government though, we need to consider all of those options and make sure that the final decision is appropriate.

MATT WORDSWORTH: But you don't have a personal view?

FIONA NASH: Well my view is making sure that our workforce out in the regions is as strong as it can be and that our farmers have access to the workforce that they need. And of course, people would realise with seasonal variation, these things are very much a timely manner, so we'll continue to work through that for the best way forward.

MATT WORDSWORTH: On Monday's Q&A program, the issue of private health insurance came up. An audience member asked if you would stop using private health insurance and you said you would whilst you're in Parliament. Have you - have you quit your private health cover?

FIONA NASH: I considered that after I'd made that comment and the question was around, clearly, getting politicians to use public hospitals. I do. My local hospital in Young's fantastic. I've used it, my children's used it, I've used various other public hospitals as my teenagers were growing up and attending sporting fixtures, we clearly ended up in public hospitals quite often. The thing that concerned me when I thought further was that I have the capacity to contribute to the private health system. And on reflection, I don't know that it's fair of me to take up a bed that could go to somebody else when I have the opportunity to contribute, so I'll be considering the other side of that matter that's already been raised with me by some people.

MATT WORDSWORTH: So you're not going to cancel your private health insurance.

FIONA NASH: I'm considering that at the moment. The other side of of the equation about making sure that those who can contribute to private health to take the pressure off the public system is a really important one and I don't want to, as somebody that can contribute to private health, be the person that's taking up a bed that someone else needs.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Did any of the private health insurers get on the phone to you or your office after you said that and say, "What are you doing?"

FIONA NASH: No, they didn't.

MATT WORDSWORTH: The Opposition says as Rural Health Minister, a supporter of plain packaging laws, you should encourage the party to stop taking donations from tobacco companies. What's your reaction to that?

FIONA NASH: I'm very clearly on the record as saying I don't believe we should be taking donations from tobacco companies. I'm extending that view to the federal organisation as it's the federal organisation of the National Party that makes decisions around those donation matters.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Alright, Senator Nash, Deputy Leader of the Nationals, thanks very much for your time.

FIONA NASH: Thanks very much, Matt.