FORMER WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls is understood to be considering a challenge on current party leader Terry Redman to try and reclaim his old job as early as next week.
The apparent leadership tilt is being flagged as a major overhaul of the WA Nationals, to boost the party’s profile with voters and take a more aggressive public stance ahead of next year’s State election.
Party sources say the move to elevate Mr Grylls has arisen from ongoing dissatisfaction with the WA Liberal’s performance and Colin Barnett’s struggling leadership rather than with Mr Redman who is well respected.
The Nationals’ leadership issue could be resolved at a party room meeting understood to be scheduled for Monday in Perth.
Sources say Mr Grylls has the support needed to win should a vote be held - but the seven votes to five margin could change in Mr Redman’s favour, at a face to face meeting.
Mr Grylls stood down as leader in late 2013 and from his role as Regional Development Minister citing family pressures and was replaced by Mr Redman who now holds that portfolio is also a former Agriculture Minister.
Mr Grylls was at the helm in 2008 when the WA Nationals won the balance of power at the State election and used it to strike a major deal with the Liberals after a week of tense negotiations to form the $1 billion per year Royalties for Regions policy.
The 43-year old was first elected to the WA parliament in 2001 and took over the leadership in 2005.
He was heralded as the best rural politician in Australia after moving from his safe Central Wheatbelt electorate at the 2013 election to convert the north-west Pilbara electorate into safe Nationals territory after it was previously a Labor strong-hold.
After the 2008 election, Mr Grylls was held back by his party room from accepting a more generous offer from the ALP on Royalties for Region and eventually formed a minority government with the Liberals.
Despite the Nationals losing the balance of power after the 2013 poll and not having any formal agreement, Mr Barnett elected to retain government with the junior partners and share cabinet ministries.
But a Nationals’ source said it was possible the independent rural focussed party could break-away from the Liberals ahead of the March 2017 poll and sit on the crossbenches, unless Premier Colin Barnett was replaced.
“We’ll break from the Coalition if we have to,” the source said.
“The Liberals have let us down as partners in government and gradually eroded public confidence.
“I’m in the ‘anyone but Colin Barnett’ camp - not one person I speak to on the street thinks he’s the man for the job.”
The source said while Mr Reman was a respected leader and one of the best contributors in State parliament, Mr Grylls could run a more aggressive election campaign which the party needed to avoid suffering serious electoral damage.
Another source said Mr Grylls was the best person for the leadership job and had the ability to sell a positive message and vision to rural voters, while Mr Redman didn’t have the same “spark”.
“Brendon is the king and he gives everyone confidence because he has that ability to sell,” the source said.
But a Liberal source who also asked not to be named said the Nationals were displaying early signs of forming government with Labor after the March election, if another hung parliament eventuated.
“Brendon Grylls would go with Labor tomorrow, end of story, and so would a few other Nationals,” the source said.
“But the Nationals have to be very careful because they’re walking down the middle of the road and when you do that, you get run down.”
It’s understood Mr Grylls has spoken to Mr Redman today but hasn’t officially stated he’ll be standing against him in any leadership challenge next week.
Another party source dismissed the leadership speculation as a “beat up” saying Mr Barnett remained the best option as Liberal leader and sitting on the crossbenches before the election would be a fatal error and WA Labor has stated it would never form government with the Nationals .
Mr Grylls was also linked to ongoing media speculation suggesting he could be making a switch to the federal parliament by running at the recent election, in the upper or lower house, which failed to eventuate.