Premier’s brutal ultimatum in one-minute meeting

 

THE NSW government is on the brink of collapse today with the Premier sharpening an axe to sack seven Nationals Ministers, including her deputy John Barilaro.

In a stunning ultimatum in response to the National Party's meltdown over new koala protection rules, Gladys Berejiklian gave a deadline of 9am today for the renegade country MPs to fall into line or be fired from the frontbench.

Nationals MPs were locked in crisis talks last night, unclear how they would respond to the Premier's threat to swear in a new ministry at Government House today.

The extraordinary breakdown comes after months of attempts behind closed doors to reach a compromise on koala policy.

Earlier, the Deputy Premier Mr Barilaro said National Party MPs would effectively sit on the crossbench but retain their ministries and their hefty pay packets while refusing to vote for government legislation until changes to the koala State Environmental Planning Policy were made.

Following an 8am meeting with Nationals MPs, Mr Barilaro declared "when a farmer or landholder isn't able to put in a driveway, or another feed shed, then you know that this policy is wrong."

John Barilaro leaves after the Nationals’ crisis party room meeting on Thursday night. Picture: Christian Gilles
John Barilaro leaves after the Nationals’ crisis party room meeting on Thursday night. Picture: Christian Gilles

He would only guarantee supply, which emboldened left-leaning enemies of Mr Barilaro's in the Liberal party to back the brutal ultimatum to effectively destroy his political career while retaining the ability to govern.

There are 35 Liberal MPs in the lower house, and only one National MP had stuck loyal, leaving the government well short of a majority of 47. There are 36 Labor MPs, three Greens, three independents and three Shooters and Fishers members.

There was a push at the Nationals' crisis meeting last night to find a compromise, but the crisis facing the party had no clear resolution at its conclusion with Liberal backers of Ms Berejiklian labelling their country coalition partners "terrorists."

The entire government was in limbo, with the Nationals resolving they would not back down on the koala policy and would reach a formal position by this morning.

The showdown was the latest in a string of threats made by Mr Barilaro to blow up the Coalition over bush issues, but never before had he taken the dispute this far.

Ministers were privately praising the premier, calling her an "iron maiden", "strong" and cheering her for "not negotiating with terrorists".

It can be revealed the koala rules as they related to private native forestry had been put on the cabinet agenda on August 27, but pulled before the meeting, with the delay further inflaming tensions.

Iron will.... NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
Iron will.... NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

 

Former National Party leader and deputy Prime Minister John Anderson stepped into the fray yesterday, publicly urging Mr Barilaro to sort out the koala habitat crisis "behind closed doors".

"It's really hard to see what their position is - are they in government or not in government? You cannot be in the cabinet from the cross bench."

After an 8am online meeting with the Nationals party room, the team had decided this was the issue they would go to the wall on.

Announcing their approach, Mr Barilaro said the party had made a decision which "effectively … put all members on the crossbench".

But in what Ms Berejiklian saw as an untenable position, Nationals ministers refused to quit cabinet, despite declaring they would vote against the government on a bill to repeal koala protection rules

They planned to keep the keys to their ministerial cars and $320,000 salaries but hold the government to ransom on every piece of legislation.

Mr Barilaro said the party had made a decision which “effectively … put all members on the crossbench”.
Mr Barilaro said the party had made a decision which “effectively … put all members on the crossbench”.

 

"We're not just going to surrender our cabinet positions," Mr Barilaro said.

"We need to be at the cabinet table," he said.

He also said the party would introduce a repeal bill to the lower house on the koala planning policy.

Mr Barilaro accused the Liberals of taking the Nationals for granted and unleashed a tirade against the inner city.

"You know, it's this city that sends its rubbish out by train every night cause you can't stand the smell of your own garbage," he said.

"You want wind farms but you want it in our backyard. You want solar farms but you want it in our backyard. You'd never have them at Balmoral or … on the shores of Pittwater.

"It is this city-centric approach that believes that regional rural NSW is the biodiversity offset so that you can cover for your guilt for all the concrete, all the roads, all the buildings and all the asphalt that's been laid.

"We're sick to death of it."

But Mr Barilaro insisted he wouldn't seek to bring the government down if Labor moved a vote of no confidence.

"We will not ever support the Labor Party in bringing down the government," he said.

 

 

Port Macquarie Nationals MP Leslie Williams would not support the position and would remain with the government.

Crucially, Mr Barilaro made the threats without informing the Premier ahead of his press conference, ratcheting up tensions.

Ms Berejiklian was not surprised by Mr Barilaro's press conference but was furious, pointing to legal requirements of Coalition government.

"It is long-established convention that members of Cabinet must support Government legislation," the Premier said in a statement.

"It is not possible to be the Deputy Premier or a Minister of the Crown and sit on the crossbench.

"I have just made it clear to the Deputy Premier that he and his Nationals colleagues who are members of the NSW Cabinet have until 9am Friday 11 September to indicate to me whether they wish to remain in my Cabinet or else sit on the crossbench," she said.

The Premier's statement was issued before Mr Barilaro had even gotten back to his own office after their meeting, being prepared in advance of the 4.30pm showdown.

The meeting lasted less than a minute.

Earlier, Liberal MP Catherine Cusack had intensified calls for Mr Barilaro to step down.

She called the split within the NSW Coalition a "nasty issue" which was threatening the "stability of the government."

"The Deputy Premier has stepped out of the cabinet and policy process and is supporting members of the government to leave and join the crossbench," she told 2GB.

When asked whether she regretted sending texts to two Nationals MPs saying "enjoy your short career," Ms Cusack said she felt that the split in the government was irreconcilable.

The Coalition already faced pressure to pass its legislation through the Upper House, where Labor has the numbers to work with the Greens and other crossbench members to win votes.

The Liberal party only has 12 upper house members compared to Labor's 14. There are five Nationals and 11 crossbench members including three Greens, two Shooters, and two Animal Justice Party members.

One Nation has two members.

Labor Leader Jodi McKay yesterday appeared unlikely to test whether the Coalition had support of the parliament when it resumes next week.

 

BARA WAS GONE IN 60 SECONDS

It was a meeting that lasted less than a minute.

Gladys Berejiklian had finally resolved that she was going to muscle up to her trouble-making deputy, calling John Barilaro's bluff.

The outspoken Nationals Leader had, in the Premier's mind, threatened to blow up the government one too many times.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro with his own furry friend. Picture Glenn Hampson
Deputy Premier John Barilaro with his own furry friend. Picture Glenn Hampson

At 4.30pm, Mr Barilaro arrived at the Premier's office with his ministerial colleagues in tow - Paul Toole, Sarah Mitchell and Bronnie Taylor.

Earlier, the Mr Barilaro said National Party MPs would effectively sit on the crossbench but retain their ministries and their hefty pay packets while refusing to vote for government legislation until changes to the koala State Environmental Planning Policy were made.

At the meeting, Ms Berejiklian did most of the speaking.

 

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She expressed her disappointment and told them they had until 9am Friday to decide if they would abandon their threats or resign.

And with that, she sent them off.

A press statement with her own ultimatum was issued before the Nationals were even back in Barilaro's office.

Ministers were privately praising the premier, calling her an "iron maiden", "strong" and cheering her for "not negotiating with terrorists".

Behind the scenes, Ms Berejiklian has been egged on by her moderate colleagues for years to stand up to Mr Barilaro.

The likes of Matt Kean and Don Harwin, who have the Premier's ear, have personal vendettas against Mr Barilaro and saw this as an opportunity to finally put him in his place.

But Mr Barilaro was just as willing to go to the wall, having felt repeatedly done over by the green-left moderates in the government.

At 5.15pm, Mr Barilaro called his own zoom meeting to regather the troops and come up with their new position, after publicly drawing a line in the sand.

His frustration was evident following an earlier morning meeting where the Nationals resolved to "effectively" sit on the crossbench with ministers somehow still attending cabinet.

Like Ms Berejiklian, who later summoned the Nationals in to deliver her ultimatum, Mr Barilaro went public without giving his Premier a heads up.

Flanked by a raft of colleagues, with a gaggle of parliamentary onlookers watching on, Mr Barilaro waged war on inner-city Liberals.

"It's this city that sends its rubbish out by train every night cause you can't stand the smell of your own garbage," the Deputy Premier said. "It is this city centric approach that believes that regional and rural NSW is the biodiversity offset so that you can cover for your guilt, for all the concrete, all the roads, all the buildings, and all the asphalt."

Not even the press pack was spared. The only pause to the all-out assault was a dramatic self-inflicted coughing fit, with Mr Barilaro forced to fetch a drink of water.

Ironic, given Coalition criticism of the Deputy Premier for launching his latest antics amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

The NSW Cabinet in happier times with Premier Gladys Berejiklian during their swearing in by NSW Governor David Hurley in April 2019. Picture: Dean Lewins/AAP
The NSW Cabinet in happier times with Premier Gladys Berejiklian during their swearing in by NSW Governor David Hurley in April 2019. Picture: Dean Lewins/AAP

 

On the sidelines of daily briefings on daily coronavirus cases this week, Ms Berejiklian had not been giving an inch to Mr Barilaro's demands for an emergency cabinet meeting to resolve what had been a long standing issue.

As a stickler for the rules, the Premier deemed this issue could be decided in the usual course of events.

"Just like any other issue there's a process, and I as Premier intend to follow due process," she said on Wednesday.

But public unrest from Nationals ministers was becoming stronger, with Sarah Mitchell hours later not ruling out giving up her own portfolio over the matter.

She said the party had "real concerns about regional landholders".

Despite Treasurer Dominic Perrottet on Wednesday laughing off the looming stoush as an example of healthy coalition "tension," other Liberals were not as forgiving.

As revealed by The Daily Telegraph yesterday, the threats of two Upper House Nationals to cross the floor sparked veteran Liberal Catherine Cusack to blast the junior MPs in dramatic text messages where she accused Wes Fang and Sam Farraway of "destroying koalas".

"Enjoy your short careers," the texts read.

The veteran Liberal's evening tirade, and repeated calls for Mr Barilaro to resign, appeared to spark the Deputy Premier's dramatic salvo against the Liberals.

"To hear Catherine Cusack actually play the man not the ball in this case was disappointing," he said.

"Whenever there is a policy disagreement with the National Party or myself, they call for my resignation.

"None of my members call for the leader of the Liberal Party to ever resign."

Originally published as Premier's brutal ultimatum to Bara in one-minute meeting



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