The past two days have been explosive for the NSW government, nearly leaving the Liberal-National Coalition in tatters in the middle of a pandemic.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has managed to emerge relatively unscathed, after delivering an unwavering ultimatum to Deputy Premier John Barilaro and his Nationals cabinet colleagues on Thursday.
The ultimatum came after Barilaro threatened to implode the NSW government’s cabinet by moving himself and his fellow Nationals to the crossbench over a dispute regarding a new state environmental planning policy and koala habitat protection.
Berejiklian, it appears, was not interested in pandering to Barilaro’s qualms and called his bluff on Thursday afternoon. She told the Nationals they must behave like they are a functioning part of the government, or else they would lose their ministries.
“It is not possible to be the Deputy Premier or a Minister of the Crown and sit on the crossbench,” Berejiklian said in a statement.
“However, 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.
“They cannot do both.
“If required, I will attend Government House tomorrow and swear in a new Ministry.”
I’m told Premier @GladysB walked in to room with Barilaro/Toole/Mitchell/Taylor and said words to the effect “I’ve never been so disgusted in the 3+ yrs working with you. Either withdraw your threat or I want your resignations on my desk at 9am tomorrow morning.” Then walked out.— Alex Hart (@alexhart7) September 10, 2020
Barilaro and the Nationals have since backed down on their threats to move to the crossbench, announcing on Friday morning the Liberal-National Coalition would remain in place.
Before that announcement, Planning Minister Rob Stokes told 2GB radio that Berejiklian “is not bluffing”.
“She’s in a difficult position. John has said he’s effectively on the crossbench but not on the crossbench and that’s not the clarity she needs during the pandemic,” he said.
Chris Gambin, Chief Executive Nature Conservation Council of NSW said, “Wanting to retain the right to kill koalas is an extraordinary hill for the Nationals to want to die on, but here we are.”
“The Nationals have dictated environmental policy to the Liberal Party and the whole state for a decade. They’ve ramped up land clearing, defended feral pests, bungled water management and intensified logging after the bushfires.
“Mr Barilaro says he is for farmers and the bush but all of his actions show he is the mouthpiece of the minerals industry, multinational irrigation corporations and big agribusinesses.”
In the end, Berejiklian was unperturbed by Barilaro’s efforts to undermine the stability of her government, and her leadership of the NSW government is now stronger for it.
And as Annabel Crabb wrote on Twitter, she may have just won the vote of every woman who has ever worked hard at her job, and been forced to put up with an “egomaniac”.
I suspect @GladysB has just won the vote of every woman who has ever worked hard at her job and been forced to put up with some grandstanding egomaniac oxygen-thief dude constantly messing things up.— Annabel Crabb (@annabelcrabb) September 11, 2020