Threatening to take his MPs to the crossbench was a bold move by John Barilaro, but his bid to force policy was swiftly thwarted by the Premier.
Threatening to take his MPs to the crossbench was a bold move by John Barilaro, but his bid to force policy was swiftly thwarted by the Premier.

After the showdown: What now for John Barilaro?

ANALYSIS

Only 20 metres separates the corner, high-rise offices of Gladys Berejiklian and John Barilaro on the same floor at 52 Martin Place.

Each week Mr Barilaro uses a "secret" back corridor to walk straight through to the Premier's office for their usual scheduled catch-ups - but not on Thursday afternoon. Nothing about the past 48 hours has been business as usual.

Summoned by the Premier to crisis talks in her boardroom at 4.30pm, Mr Barilaro was forced to come through front reception.

Surrounded by National colleagues Paul Toole, Sarah Mitchell and Bronnie Taylor, the Deputy Premier sat at the table as Ms Berejiklian expressed her disgust.

In just 60 seconds, she told him - in no uncertain terms - he had until 9am to make a decision on moving to the crossbench or she was going to Government House to swear in a new ministry.

She then walked out, back down the hallway to her office, giving the green light for a media statement to be emailed.

Mr Barilaro hadn't even reached his office before the bombshell document was deposited in the inboxes of journalists.

The Premier had struck back decisively.

By 5.15pm, the Nationals were meeting again over Zoom.

The game had changed - ministerial salaries, cars and perks were now on the line.

As the evening wore on, the stand-off continued.

Speculation about Mr Barilaro's leadership had also started swirling, with rumours the numbers were being counted for a spill.

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, Minister for Women Bronnie Taylor and John Barilaro. Picture: Joel Carrett/NCA NewsWire
Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, Minister for Women Bronnie Taylor and John Barilaro. Picture: Joel Carrett/NCA NewsWire

Shortly after 6am yesterday, a defeated and tired-sounding Mr Barilaro went on Ben Fordham's 2GB radio program, saying "an hour is a long time in politics".

By 8am - with the clock ticking - the Nats were in another crisis meeting.

An hour later, Mr Barilaro and his loyal colleague Ms Taylor were back in the Premier's office, having come through the front door yet again.

The outspoken politician would back down from his threat the previous day but he wanted one concession - move the discussion of koala protection rules to September 21 and not wait until October.

The Saturday Telegraph understands that wasn't negotiable.

In less than half an hour, the meeting was done.

One Liberal MP said: "After bringing the state government to the brink of collapse, he walked away with nothing."

 

A more jovial John Barilaro and Gladys Berejiklian in April. Picture: Bianca De Marchi/AAP
A more jovial John Barilaro and Gladys Berejiklian in April. Picture: Bianca De Marchi/AAP

At noon, a short and sharp joint statement between the two leaders was released. It was just three sentences long.

The Coalition would remain in place and the showdown was over. The koala issue was still on the table but would be discussed in Cabinet in due course.

No doubt a pleasing outcome for a Premier known as a stickler for the rules - and now also for having a steely resolve.

Former federal Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said he would have carried out the threat to move to the crossbench if he was in John Barilaro's ­position.

"I would have," the New England MP said, "but that is just me. And I'm not saying my form of politics is the most effective, but the best way to deal with a threat is to show: 'This is what will happen from now on'. You will have supply. But for everything else you will have to come to my office."

However Mr Barilaro's other Nationals colleagues in Canberra described him as a "joke" and "gutless" after he capitulated to the Premier.

 

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce has backed Mr Barilaro. Picture: Toby Zerna
Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce has backed Mr Barilaro. Picture: Toby Zerna

 

Several federal National Party MPs said there was merit in Mr Barilaro's push to amend laws which will force landowners to provide more evidence that proposed developments will not impact koala habitats.

But National Party MPs questioned his decision to publicise the spat before backing down from his threat to sit on the crossbench.

"It's just one giant game of poker for him," one Nationals MP said.

"If you are willing to step into the ring, you've got to be willing to throw a punch."

The backdown was labelled a "joke" and "gutless" by National MPs who didn't want to be named.

Another federal National Party MP said the junior Coalition partner was desperate for policies to differentiate itself from the Liberals, but said Mr Barilaro "lacked conviction".

 

Liberal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham heaped praise on Ms Berejiklian. Picture: Lukas Coch/AAP
Liberal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham heaped praise on Ms Berejiklian. Picture: Lukas Coch/AAP

Mr Joyce said the NSW Nationals were "making a stand and putting their people ahead of others' views on koalas", but privately, federal Liberal MPs were furious with the National Party meltdown given the ongoing health and economic crisis.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham heaped praise on Ms Berejiklian.

"The priority in NSW needs to be backing Gladys in, because she has done a truly exceptional job of suppressing the threat from COVID-19," Senator Birmingham said.

"She's led the way around Australia, and frankly around the world, in demonstrating how effective contact tracing and isolating can manage to beat this thing, while keeping your economy largely open."

As for the future of the NSW Deputy Premier, Mr Joyce said the last thing the state party needed was a new leader. "I support John and wish him the best," he said.

"But you now have to regain the confidence of the country people that you have the capacity to say something and stand behind it."

Originally published as After the showdown: What now for John Barilaro?


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