How deputy John Barilaro’s angry texts pushed Premier to the edge

The koala showdown between Gladys Berejiklian and John Barilaro on Friday was a show of force by a Premier tired of her deputy’s bad behaviour, including a history of ‘aggressive’ texts.

A fed-up NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian brought on the koala showdown with her deputy John Barilaro as a sign of force and to shut down bad behaviour, including a history of “aggressive” texts.

Ms Berejiklian yesterday stared down her renegade Coalition partner in a move that improved her credentials as a leader and ultimately saved her government.

The Premier’s standoff took the Nationals by surprise, given it was not the first time Mr Barilaro threatened to quit as leader or give up his title of deputy premier.

But, having to govern with the daily threat of another fatal virus outbreak, rogue behaviour was not something the Premier was prepared to continue to endure.

While the relationship between Ms Berejiklian and Mr Barilaro has been cordial for the most part, government insiders say the Premier had endured a history of “aggressive texts” from the Deputy Premier.

The text messages, described as having an aggressive tone, involved other issues as well as the dispute over koala conservation.

The Premier is understood to have told colleagues on different occasions that while she regarded Mr Barilaro as a friend, she was “tired” of his behaviour.

“She usually deletes them,” one source said.

John Barilaro speaks to media on Friday. Picture: Julian Andrews
John Barilaro speaks to media on Friday. Picture: Julian Andrews

There were suggestions Ms Berejiklian took a hard line against Mr Barilaro at the urging of members of her cabinet, including Environment Minister Matt Kean and Planning Minister Rob Stokes, but sources close to the Premier said it was her decision.

Mr Barilaro’s threats to move to the crossbench during a global pandemic particularly angered her.

Not only did the Premier issue an ultimatum for the Nationals to withdraw their threats or face being sacked, formal arrangements for the NSW Governor to be available to swear in the new ministry were also made.

“They text message all the time,” one source said.

“And sometimes the messages are frank.”

Mr Barilaro’s office said it would not be commenting.

Warren Brown’s take on the saga.
Warren Brown’s take on the saga.

Police Minister David Elliott, who described Mr Barilaro’s behaviour as the “the greatest act of political bastardry in quite some time”, said the Nationals leader’s position had become untenable.

“The disloyalty that we’ve seen out of the Deputy Premier makes his position untenable and I also believe that what we’ve seen out of Gladys Berejiklian today is that ‘don’t bring a knife to a gunfight’.

“Those that want to take her on, need to be able to follow through. Don’t make threats that you can’t follow through.”

While Mr Barilaro yesterday withdrew his threat to move his MPs to the crossbench, the tensions between the Nationals and Liberals have put into question how long the truce will last.

Police and Emergency Services Minister David Elliott. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Bianca De Marchi
Police and Emergency Services Minister David Elliott. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Bianca De Marchi

The backflip came after the Monaro MP declared his MPs would be effectively moving to the crossbench and refusing to vote for government legislation until changes were made to the koala State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP).

Mr Barilaro sent Ms Berejiklian a message late on Thursday night, informing her that the Nationals would be staying in the Coalition “for the next sitting fortnight” and attending a joint party room if the Cabinet meeting to discuss SEPP could be brought forward from its early October date.

The Premier is understood to have replied, declaring that the issue was not about the SEPP but “the provision of stability to govern” and agreeing to “being in Coalition until the election” as well as for National MPs to “support all Cabinet decisions”.

Mr Barilaro allegedly replied that he would “reserve his right” before the Premier instructed that he let her know his decisions “by 9am” yesterday.

Planning Minister Rob Stokes. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Planning Minister Rob Stokes. Picture: Jonathan Ng

As the Nationals began their 8am meeting at 52 Martin Place — Mr Barilaro and Mental Health Minister Bronnie Taylor in the office with others participating via Zoom — party sources were declaring that they would be “holding firm” on the threat.

During the meeting, MPs voted unanimously to back their leader in allowing the Premier to sack them if he did not get the result he wanted, one party source said.

Shortly after 9am, Mr Barilaro and Ms Taylor walked across the corridor to Ms Berejiklian’s office where she was seated with Treasurer Dominic Perrottet.

Despite the high drama, sources close to those present said the mood was understood to be “civil”.

A Liberal source claimed Mr Barilaro resumed the Zoom meeting to inform his party that MPs would not be required to head to the crossbench. He said he would not be revealing details of the meeting, although indicated there had been concessions on both sides — a claim the Liberals denied.

While The Sunday Telegraph flagged last week how Ms Berejiklian would bring the SEPP back to Cabinet, the Nationals argued there was now a commitment that this would occur “at the earliest possible date”.

“It is a win for us,” a source said.

“Barra expressed what he wanted to happen and we now have an iron-clad guarantee that discussions over this green Liberal policy will take place in cabinet and is now the number policy for consideration.”

The policy is expected to be discussed at the October 5 cabinet meeting.

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