Premier gives ultimatum to NSW Nationals over koala policy stoush
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has issued Nationals leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro and the members of his party an ultimatum to either stand with her or sit on the crossbench.
The NSW Government is in crisis after the Nationals today announced they would not support government legislation.
The stoush between the Liberals and their Coalition partners was triggered by the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) Koala Habitat Protection, designed to protect koala habitats.
"A Government serving the people of NSW must respect Cabinet and parliamentary processes. This is more important now than ever before given the challenges facing our citizens," Ms Berejiklian said in a statement this afteronon."It is a long established convention that members of Cabinet must support Government legislation. It is not possible to be the Deputy Premier or a Minister of the Crown and sit on the crossbench.
"I am and always have been a strong Coalitionist and deeply respect the National Party and all it stands for."
Ms Berejiklian says if Nationals MPs do not come to a resolution by 9am tomorrow, she will go directly to Government House to swear in a new ministry.
The strict ultimatum comes hours after Mr Barilaro said a split with the state government was sparked by a "total betrayal" over the koala policy.
He told 2GB radio's Jim Wilson this afternoon the Nationals had been working on amendments to the policy with their Liberal partners for up to six months before an agreement was allegedly thrown out.
"We were given the ability to make adjustments and amendments to the SEPP. Out of nowhere a few weeks ago, total betrayal and they withdrew their support for our amendments," Mr Barilaro said.
"My party, the National Party, who formed government with the Liberal Party, requested this be dealt with urgently before we returned (to parliament) next week.
"They have no intent of following through with our amendments. At what point do we say enough is enough?"
The NSW Nationals leader also said it was "wrong" for Planning Minister Rob Stokes to release maps that reclassify certain regional locations, such as individual farmers' property sheds, town roundabouts and historic farms, as koala habitats — therefore making it more difficult to develop or construct on that land.
"If I was wrong why would NSW Farmers, who represent the thousands of farmers in this state, be up in arms?" Mr Barilaro told 2GB.
"The regions are home to a lot of the koala habitat and we want to continue to see that habitat not only survive, but thrive."
Under Mr Barilaro, the Nationals — with the support of every one of its members apart from Port Macqurie MP Leslie Williams — are set to introduce their own bill independent of the NSW Liberal Party to repeal the SEPP policy.
"The National Party wants to see a thriving koala population in NSW, even a doubling of the population, but the SEPP does not achieve this," a statement issued earlier by the party reads.
"It is a blunt instrument to make city-centric lawmakers feel good about themselves.
"For six months the NSW Nationals have sought to work collaboratively with the Liberal Party to ensure the (policy) does not take away from farmers' property rights."
Mr Barilaro said the NSW Nationals will no longer be taking part in joint party room meetings to discuss legislation with Premier Gladys Berejiklian's party and will abstain from voting on government bills unless they directly affect the state's rural and regional areas.
"We are in agreement that we will be abstaining from supporting any government legislation or bills, but we reserve our right to vote on and support or not support bills that are relevant to regional and rural NSW," he said.
"We will do so until our submission and our amendments are considered and the issues around the SEPP move forward in a way we are comfortable with."
Mr Barilaro confirmed Nationals ministers would not surrender their portfolios as part of the move.
NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay called on Ms Berejiklian to confirm the "status of her government" following the National Party move.
"I'm asking the premier to front the media and the citizens of NSW within the next two hours and tell us whether, in fact, her government is still functioning," Ms McKay said.
"Parliament is sitting next week and we have to have a parliament that functions. I am completely committed to that, but I am unsure whether this government right now can deliver that.
"I don't understand how you can walk into cabinet, be bound by cabinet solidarity, and then walk into the parliament and do a completely different thing, particularly being members of the government, being ministers."