Nationals MPs will abstain from voting on NSW coalition government bills as they fight changes to the state’s koala protection policy, effectively robbing the Berejiklian government of its majority.
Rebel NSW Nationals leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro says the changes to the Koala Habitat Protection State Environmental Planning Policy are ‘wrong’ and hurt landowners and farmers.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian was blindsided by the loss of her coalition partner, finding out about the dramatic move when the Nationals’ leader shared the explosive news at a press conference.
AAP understands Mr Barilaro has been summoned to a meeting with the premier later on Thursday afternoon.
The National party has announced its MPs will abstain from voting on government bills until changes are made to the koala protection policy
‘This is a National Party decision. We are not the coalition today. We are today clearly identifying ourselves as an independent party that has the ability to make decisions that are important,’ the deputy premier told reporters on Thursday.
Mr Barilaro says Nationals MPs feel their concerns have not been heard and that they’ve been ‘betrayed’, and decided to take action at a party room meeting earlier on Thursday.
‘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, he said Nationals ministers won’t be surrendering their portfolios.
Mr Barilaro flagged his party will also introduce a repeal bill for the policy when parliament resumes on Tuesday.
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.
NSW Nationals leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro (pictured)says the changes to the Koala Habitat Protection State Environmental Planning Policy are ‘wrong’ and hurt landowners and farmers
The decision has effectively tumbled the state government’s coalition majority. Premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured) is understood to be holding a meeting with Mr Barilaro on Thursday afternoon
‘The National Party stands for a thriving koala population,’ Mr Barilaro said.
‘We actually want to see the population double. We are not anti-koala.
‘We think a SEPP like this is somehow a way to sanitise the regions, attack the property rights of landholders and do absolutely nothing to support koalas.’
The Nationals have proposed several changes to the policy including ensuring there is a reasonable definition of highly suitable koala habitat, separating private native forestry from the SEPP and operating rural regulated land and agricultural production outside of the SEPP.
NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay accused Mr Barilaro of ‘blowing up the coalition’ during some ‘extraordinary scenes’ at the press conference.
Ms McKay called on the premier to front the public on Thursday afternoon to confirm the status of her government.
‘It is my belief that the government is no longer functioning,’ she told reporters.
Independent MP Justin Field urged the premier to hold her line and stand up for nature and koalas.
Nature Conservation Council chief executive Chris Gambian said ‘the koala policy is one small measure is become extinct in NSW by 2050’
‘This is just another ideological political attack on our environment by the National Party whose policies are destroying our rivers and forests,’ Mr Field said in a statement.
Nature Conservation Council chief executive Chris Gambian accused the Nationals of dictating environmental policy in the state for a decade.
‘The koala policy is one small measure to ensure koalas don’t become extinct in NSW by 2050,’ he said in a statement.
NSW Liberal Catherine Cusack earlier blasted Mr Barilaro and called for his resignation.
‘This is an excellent government … but we can’t continue on this track that he’s put us on,’ she said.
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 has 14.