The NSW Nationals appear to have softened their stance after being slapped with a 9am deadline to backflip on a threat to move to the cross bench or face being sacked from the ministry.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian issued the ultimatum to Deputy Premier John Barilaro and his Nationals colleagues on Sept 10 after they threatened mutiny because of a dispute over the state’s koala protection policy.
The NSW Nationals leader blindsided Berejiklian, announcing his MPs would abstain from voting on coalition bills as they fought changes to the protection plan.
The move effectively robbed the government of its majority and provoked a stern response from the premier.
“It is not possible to be the deputy premier or a minister of the Crown and sit on the crossbench”, Berejiklian fired off in a media statement.
She said Barilaro and his Nationals ministerial colleagues had until Friday morning to declare support for her government or be sacked from cabinet.
“If required, I will attend Government House tomorrow and swear in a new ministry,” Berejiklian said.
The ultimatum forced the Nationals into an emergency party room meeting on Thursday night but MPs failed to reach any resolution, with further discussions scheduled for 8am Friday.
Barilarlo appeared by Friday morning to be softening his stance, telling Sydney’s 2GB radio he thought the issue could be resolved but it may take time, possibly several weeks.
He also claimed the threat to sit on the cross bench had been misinterpreted.
“What we said yesterday was that no one would go physically to the cross bench,” Barilaro said.
“But what was turned on us because we said we won’t vote on government bills until this is resolved but we will vote on bills and motions on the regions that, effectively, the whole party’s gone to the cross bench.
“They’re not sitting on the cross bench, we are not going to the cross bench.”
That was at odds with his position following the previous day’s party room meeting where he emerged saying changes to the Koala Habitat Protection State Environmental Planning Policy were “wrong” and hurt landowners and farmers.
“We will be abstaining from voting on government bills,” he said.
“By not voting or abstaining from voting from government bills we’re effectively on the cross bench.”
Nationals MPs also won’t attend joint party room or leadership meetings until the issue is resolved.
However Barilaro said Nationals ministers would not surrender their portfolios.
NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes says the premier is not bluffing and implored the MPs to work with her.
“The premier has made it pretty clear what her expectations are,” the Liberal MP told 2GB on Friday.
“I implore them to realise the premier is not bluffing, she’s not backing down, she’s got a big job to do and she’d love your support.”
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 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 14.