New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian issued a stunning ultimatum to her deputy and Nationals MPs in a meeting that lasted just 60 seconds on Thursday.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro and his National Party colleagues threatened to sit on the crossbench because of a dispute over NSW’s koala protection policy.
After being blindsided by her coalition partner on Thursday, Ms Berejiklian gave Nationals MPs the choice of declaring support for her government or being sacked from cabinet.
In a media statement she said ‘it is not possible to be the deputy premier or a minister of the Crown and sit on the crossbench’.
Mr Barilaro arrived at the Premier’s office with ministerial colleagues – Paul Toole, Sarah Mitchell and Bronnie Taylor – at 4.30pm on Thursday.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian issued a stunning ultimatum to her deputy and Nationals MPs in a meeting that lasted just 60 seconds
Deputy Premier and Nationals Leader John Barilaro and his colleagues threatened to sit on the crossbench because of a dispute over NSW’s koala protection policy
During the 60-second meeting, Ms Berejiklian expressed her disappointment and told them to abandon their backbench threats or quit by 9am Friday.
She did nearly all of the talking, then sent them on their way, The Daily Telegraph reported.
Her press statement had been issued by the time they made it back to Mr Barilaro’s office.
‘If required, I will attend Government House tomorrow (Friday) and swear in a new ministry,’ Ms Berejiklian said in the statement.
‘It is long-established convention that members of cabinet must support government legislation.’
The ultimatum forced the NSW Nationals into an emergency partyroom meeting on Thursday night.
However, MPs reportedly failed to reach any resolution, but would maintain discussions ahead of Friday’s deadline.
Mr Barilaro announced the crossbench threat after another partyroom meeting on Thursday morning, saying changes to the Koala Habitat Protection State Environmental Planning Policy are ‘wrong’ and hurt landowners and farmers.
‘We will be abstaining from voting on government bills,’ he said.
The National party announced its MPs will abstain from voting on government bills until changes are made to koala protection policy before Ms Berejiklian gave them the ultimatum
Mr Barilaro arrived at the Premier’s office with ministerial colleagues – Paul Toole, Sarah Mitchell and Bronnie Taylor – in tow at 4.30pm on Thursday
‘By not voting or abstaining from voting from government bills we’re effectively on the crossbench.’
He said Nationals MPs also wouldn’t attend joint party room or leadership meetings until the issue is resolved.
However, he added Nationals ministers won’t be surrendering their portfolios.
The Nationals are concerned the policy limits land use on farms and the ability to rezone areas for development as more trees are classed as koala habitat, which will restrict the clearing of land.
‘The National Party stands for a thriving koala population,’ Mr Barilaro said.
‘We actually want to see the population double. We are not anti-koala.
‘This is somehow a way to sanitise the regions, attack the property rights of landholders and do absolutely nothing to support koalas.’
The Nationals have proposed several changes to the policy including ensuring there is a reasonable definition of highly suitable koala habitat, separating private native forestry from the proposal and operating rural regulated land and agricultural production separately.
During the 60-second meeting, Ms Berejiklian took the lead by expressing her disappointment and advising them to make the decision before 9am Friday
NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay accused Mr Barilaro of ‘blowing up the coalition’ during some ‘extraordinary scenes’ at the press conference.
She called on the premier to front the public to confirm the status of her government.
‘It is my belief that the government is no longer functioning,’ she told reporters.
Independent MP Justin Field urged the premier to hold her line and stand up for nature and koalas.
‘This is just another ideological political attack on our environment by the National Party whose policies are destroying our rivers and forests,’ Mr Field said in a statement.
Mr Barilaro announced the crossbench threat after another partyroom meeting on Thursday morning
The Nationals are concerned the policy limits land use on farms and the ability to rezone areas for development as more trees are classed as koala habitat
Nature Conservation Council chief executive Chris Gambian accused the Nationals of dictating environmental policy in the state for a decade.
‘The koala policy is one small measure to ensure koalas don’t become extinct in NSW by 2050,’ he said in a statement.
NSW Liberal Catherine Cusack earlier blasted Mr Barilaro and called for his resignation.
‘This is an excellent government … but we can’t continue on this track that he’s put us on,’ she said.
The Nationals have 13 lower house MPs, while the Liberals have 35 and Labor 36.
In the upper house, the Nationals have six, the Liberals have 11 and Labor has 14.