Barilaro: I don't regret threatening to split Coalition

 

Deputy Premier John Barilaro says he has "no regrets" over his party's threat to split the Coalition over koala protection rules, after a ­senior Liberal minister slammed his "politically reckless" behaviour.

In an extraordinary spray at the Nationals leader yesterday, Transport Minister Andrew Constance said Mr Barilaro's actions had pushed the ­Coalition to the brink of collapse.

He said the issue was no longer about koalas but about "leadership".

"For Christ's sake, just get back to what's important here, and that's the community. And that's where Barra's, quite frankly, buggering up," he said.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian did not criticise Mr Constance for those statements.

"I think Minister Constance has always spoken his mind, as we've seen, and he continues to do that," she said.

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Mr Barilaro on Thursday for the first time promised there would be "no circumstances" where he would raise the prospect of leaving the ­Coalition. He appeared deflated and exhausted in parliament after a bruising week in which his leadership was called into question.

However, Mr Barilaro's actions in threatening to split the government were partly to safeguard his Nationals party leadership because four MPs had already threatened to sit on the crossbench.

"To allow four members to sit on the crossbench for any leader, it's not palatable," he said, suggesting he would be under pressure if his party had not presented a united front.

Liberal MPs, farmers and lobby groups are increasingly raising their concerns about the koala protection rules since the dramatic Nationals threat. The policy increases the number of trees considered "core" koala habitat from 10 to more than 120.

Regional Liberals whose electorates are covered by the SEPP on Thursday welcomed cabinet considering the policy.

"I welcome the cabinet considering the SEPP and providing further assurance in the guidelines where necessary," Albury MP Justin Clancy said.

Hawkesbury MP Robyn Preston said she discussed the policy with Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes this week amid concern from her voters.

Nathaniel Smith, who raised the matter in Liberal meetings this week, said he would continue to work with colleagues to "strike the right balance between protecting property rights and preserving our iconic koalas".

However, long-serving David­son MP Jonathan O'Dea said of 1149 emails his electorate office has responded to regarding the planning rules, only one opposed the ­policy.

COALITION ON BRINK AS SENIOR LIB SLAMS 'RECKLESS' BARILARO

The Coalition relationship has never been at a worse state than it is now, according to a senior Liberal Minister in comments that will reignite a civil war that almost saw the Nationals split the government.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance has unloaded on the Deputy Premier, calling John Barilaro "politically reckless" and accusing him of "buggering up".

It comes after Mr Barilaro repeatedly refused to rule out making further threats to leave the Coalition.

When asked whether those actions made him angry, Mr Constance replied: "you bet it did".

"I thought his behaviour in the parliament yesterday was unnecessary. He stood up and didn't guarantee the coalition," Mr Constance said.

A guarantee to keep the coalition in place was a key request Premier Gladys Berejiklian made of Mr Barilaro last Friday.

Mr Constance said tensions in the government were no longer about koala protection policies but about "leadership".

Minister for Transport and Roads Andrew Constance addresses the issues in the government yesterday. Picture: Jeremy Piper
Minister for Transport and Roads Andrew Constance addresses the issues in the government yesterday. Picture: Jeremy Piper

Mr Constance said he was able to exempt bushfire victims in his electorate from contentious koala protection rules through proper consultation, accusing Mr Barilaro of ignoring due process.

"For christ's sake, just get back to what's important here, and that's the community. And that's where Barra's, quite frankly, buggering up," he said.

The senior Liberal Minister - who has publicly lashed out at Mr Barilaro in the past - said he had not seen the Coalition relationship at a worse point that it was now.

Asked whether he thought the Coalition partnership was unstable with Mr Barilaro as Nationals leader, Mr Constance replied:

"What do you reckon?

"Did you see question time yesterday? Seriously," he said.

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Not a single Liberal spoke in support of John Barilaro as the Berejiklian government was forced to stare down a no confidence motion in the deputy premier from Labor in NSW parliament yesterday.

Mr Barilaro survived the motion 48-40, but serious questions over Coalition solidarity remained due to the absence of any Liberal speaking in his support following last week's threat to cross the floor over koala legislation.

Government whip Adam Crouch also failed to send an order to government MPs to support Mr Barilaro in the chamber, which is the normal course of action when there is a no confidence motion or a censure motion against a government member.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and John Barilaro during Question Time in the NSW parliament. Picture: Justin Lloyd.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and John Barilaro during Question Time in the NSW parliament. Picture: Justin Lloyd.

A government spokesman said this was due to COVID restrictions on numbers allowed in the house, and that the Nationals MPs had requested all the available space.

However gallery seating in the chamber was not used, which would have opened up more space.

It can also be revealed that the koala policy has been put on the agenda for the October 6 cabinet meeting, meaning Mr Barilaro did not secure a major concession he wanted during the impasse with Liberals colleagues - discussing the policy sooner on September 21.

Mr Barilaro himself also refused to guarantee Coalition solidarity to the election yesterday - a key request Premier Gladys Berejiklian made of him.

Asked by Labor in Question Time if he ruled out making further threats against the Coalition, Mr Barilaro said: "My guarantee is that I'll keep working each and every day for the people of rural and regional NSW, including the issues around the koala SEPP (State Environmental Planning Policy)".

Originally published as Coalition on brink as senior Lib slams 'reckless' Barilaro



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