The NSW Deputy Premier has insisted he is not trying to destroy the Coalition in a fiery interview on Friday morning.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned National Party late on Thursday that front benchers had until 9am Friday morning to indicate whether they will remain in their roles or surrender them amid a heated dispute over koala protection rules.
It came in response to Nationals leader John Barilaro declaring his party would not support government legislation and would boycott joint party room meetings and parliamentary leadership meetings until changes were made to the koala policy.
“It sounds like she’s called your bluff and you’ve blinked,” 2GB’s Ben Fordham said during the heated interview.
“Oh really? Is that how you read it, Ben?” Mr Barilaro responded.
“Why up the ante to that level where the whole government is now in crisis and you are facing the sack at 9am? Why take it to that point?” Fordham asked.
Mr Barilaro said his MP’s did not intend to go sit on the crossbench.
“Didn’t you say they (National MPs) would go and sit on the crossbench?” Mr Fordham asked.
Mr Barilaro fired back: “No, what we said yesterday was that no one would physically go to the crossbench.”
He said what they said was turned around and “effectively the whole party has gone to the crossbench.”
Mr Barilaro said was not trying to bring down the government.
“I’m not here to destroy the Coalition. We’ve been a bloody good government and it’s not the Liberals that have been a good government, ‘we’ have been a good government.”
The deputy premier has been taking a stand over amendments to the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP), which were designed to protect koala habitats.
“It’s not just about koala protection laws, it’s about protecting the regions,” Mr Barilaro said.
“What do we stand for? Did we not learn from greyhounds, did we not learn from local government mergers in regional communities.”
Barilaro fired up at Mr Fordham when probed about sacrificing the government over a policy which had “been discussed in cabinet and National MPs had a say on” according to Mr Fordham.
“That’s incorrect. The facts are clear it has never gone to cabinet. That’s why we want it in cabinet,” Mr Barilaro said.
“It didn’t have to go to cabinet … a planning instrument or blunt tool was used by Minister (Rob) Stokes to change the koala protection bill and he assured us we would work through the guidelines.
“And we came to a consensus about what those guidelines would look like.”
Mr Barilaro claimed a “mistruth” has been spread by the Liberals, arguing they had actually been working constructively.
“There was a consultation period we entered into and we were given assurance that our issues would be managed,” he said.
“We’ve been working on this for six months to no avail.”
Ms Berejiklian stormed a meeting of National Party frontbenchers on Thursday, declaring her “disgust”.
“I have already made clear to the Deputy Premier that his policy concerns are listed for discussion at an upcoming Cabinet meeting and will be considered by the joint party room,” the Premier said in a statement.
“It is 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.”
She said she will attend Friday’s 9am meeting at Government House and swear in a new ministry “if required”.
On Thursday Mr Barilaro appeared on Sky News where he was interviewed by former 2GB radio host Alan Jones.
“I never thought I’d be part of a government that punishes people for standing up for what is right for their communities,” the Deputy Premier said.
Mr Barilaro said the idea that we should lose our ministries “because we’re fighting for our community” is wrong.
Changes to the koala policy would class more trees as habitat for the native animals and restrict land clearing.
Mr Barilaro argued the policy was borne out of guilt that habitats were being destroyed in Sydney, yet developments continue to be approved.
The Nationals are concerned farmers and landowners will have less rights.
“To cover that guilt, here in Sydney, we think that a SEPP like this is somehow a way to sanitise the regions, attack the property rights of landholders, do absolutely nothing to support koalas,” he said.