Why John Barilaro’s koala concerns may destroy his political habitat

Well, that escalated quickly.

It was just last Wednesday that one north coast Nationals MP first threatened to head to the crossbench over the State Government’s koala protection policy.

Today, NSW Nationals leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro upped the ante, announcing not one but all Nationals MPs will refuse to support Government bills until his party’s demands are met.

This effectively leaves their Liberal counterparts in a minority government.

And Barilaro’s demands didn’t end there, saying that all ministers would refuse to relinquish their portfolios, despite moving to the crossbench.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian later issued an ultimatum of her own, demanding Nationals ministers remain in her Cabinet and support Government legislation, or sit on the crossbench.

“They cannot do both,” she said.

It’s hard to believe such an ugly stoush has formed over the cutest of critters.

The Nationals are enraged the Government’s Koala Habitat Protection State Environment Planning Policy (SEPP), which means farmers and property owners must jump through more hoops if they want to clear land.

The Nationals argue the new rules go too far in restricting how owners manage their land and don’t actually ensure the safety of koala populations.

koala in tree at koala hospital
The Nationals say the koala policy is too restrictive on how farmers manage their land.(ABC News: Wiriya Sati)

The parties have been in talks for the past six months over this policy but have clearly hit an impasse.

Barilaro didn’t warn Premier Gladys Berejiklian before making his bombshell announcement earlier today.

Barilaro has form with strong-arm tactics

It’s not the first time Barilaro has tried to force Berejiklian’s hand.

While she was still premier-in-waiting, following the resignation of Mike Baird in early 2017, Barilaro demanded an end to council amalgamations.

It was an issue — along with the racing ban on greyhounds — which cost the Nationals the key seat of Orange in the state’s west.

The greyhound saga pitted city MPs against country MPs and Barilaro was instrumental in the policy ultimately being overturned.

This week, he commented that the Nationals moved too late on both those issues and he didn’t want to make the same mistake on koala policy.

But it may prove a step too far for the Liberals this time.

Barilaro has earnt a reputation for threatening to resign or blow up the Coalition agreement when he doesn’t get his way.

It’s how he gets the job done.

It’s no secret some within the Liberal ranks have grown weary of his modus operandi.

In the past, the Premier has tried to be conciliatory with her deputy but today she surprised some of her Liberal colleagues by calling his bluff.

She gave him and the other Cabinet members until 9:00am Friday to decide their future.

In the process, she appears to have made Barilaro’s position as leader untenable.

On the surface, Barilaro’s show of force has to put the Premier in a tight spot.

It means she can no longer count on the vote of 13 Lower House National MPs and six Upper House MPs.

But if you look more closely, his strong-arm tactics lack muscle.

In the Lower House, the Coalition holds 35 seats to Labor’s 36.

It’s unlikely Independents such as Alex Greenwich or Greg Piper will vote against the Government.

It seems Barilaro may have overplayed his hand and in the process destroyed his own habitat.

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