Gladys Berejiklian puts down a revolt
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has called the bluff of her deputy, state Nationals leader John Barilaro, whose bizarre threat to move his whole party to the crossbench (while those with ministries remained in cabinet) did not last 24 hours. In a joint statement released this afternoon, the two leaders confirmed that the Coalition between the Liberals and Nationals remained in place and that “this includes a commitment to supporting cabinet conventions and processes”. The statement indicates that the contentious environmental planning policy known as SEPP 44 – the subject of the dispute between the two parties – would return to cabinet for consideration. Barilaro has tried to dress that up as a victory, telling 2GB this morning, “We’ve got the win there today.” But a Liberal source has said Barilaro had “100 per cent capitulated and could not even secure a date to discuss the koala SEPP [State Environmental Planning Policy], and it will come to cabinet in due course”. Barilaro, who has already flagged he will not contest the state election due in 2023, is now a laughing-stock, and his leadership is widely considered “untenable”. Alternative leaders from within the NSW Nationals party room are now being canvassed, and Guardian Australiareports that possible candidates include Water Minister Melinda Pavey, Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall and Regional Transport Minister Paul Toole.
There will be some federal fallout from Barilaro’s failed revolt, which has strengthened the hand of federal Nationals leader Michael McCormack, the deputy prime minister. McCormack fended off a challenge from his predecessor, Barnaby Joyce, in February, but his position has nevertheless been subject to “on-again off-again” speculation from almost the moment he started in the job. Barilaro was supported overnight by Joyce and former Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie, who resigned after the “sports rorts” affair (which is back in the news today and remains unresolved). Interestingly, current deputy leader David Littleproud has also expressed support for Barilaro’s stand, telling Sky News:
This is all about policy and not about personalities. Some of the deputy premier’s opponents have been personalising the attack … There is a conga line of people like the National Farmers’ Federation or the NSW Farmers [Association], the surveyors, landholders, people who are trying to get residential development done in our country towns. They are all being hamstrung by this SEPP 44. I’ve had representations into my office for most of this year from people in the timber industry, private and native forestry. It is an imposition on private property rights. We have a desire to protect koalas and koala habitat, but it’s nonsensical to go from 10 koala trees to 123 – including pests and weeds like camphor laurels, which are now mysteriously called koala habitat. We are just trying to get commonsense policy. I support John Barilaro. He was never trying to change the government; he was just trying to change the policy.
But Barilaro has not managed to change the koala policy, so – by this yardstick – he’s failed. Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MP Helen Dalton, a family farmer who took the electorate of Murray from the Nationals at the last state election, agrees that there are genuine concerns in the bush about SEPP 44, but says that Barilaro himself rubber-stamped it into law and country voters are sick of him backflipping. “It’s typical of what John Barilaro has been doing for the last few years,” she says. “He comes out, he talks big in the bush, and then when he goes to Sydney he does the exact opposite … Do the job properly in the first place instead of doing all this bravado and chest-thumping right now. People are over it. He’s talked about a lot of things. He’s talked about walking away from the Murray–Darling Basin Plan. He’s talked about having a royal commission into water mismanagement … nothing gets done. I mean, we’ve really worked him out.”
Perhaps, by now, Barilaro’s party colleagues have too.
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Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has called the bluff of her deputy, state Nationals leader John Barilaro, whose bizarre threat to move his whole party to the crossbench (while those with ministries remained in cabinet) did not last 24 hours. In a joint statement released this afternoon, the two leaders confirmed that the Coalition between the Liberals and Nationals remained in place and that “this includes a commitment to supporting cabinet conventions and processes”. The statement indicates that the contentious environmental planning policy known as SEPP 44 – the subject of the dispute between the two parties – would return to cabinet for consideration. Barilaro has tried to dress that up as a victory, telling 2GB this morning, “We’ve got the win there today.” But a Liberal source has...
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