Premier gives Nationals ultimatum: ministers or crossbenchers

Koalas cause NSW Nationals to pull support and sit on crossbench

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Politics
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The Nationals will abstain from voting on government bills, effectively placing the whole party on the crossbench.

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THE NSW Premier has issued the Nationals with an ultimatum: back down from its threat to sit on the crossbench, or give up its ministerial positions on the frontbench.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian will give Nationals leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro until 9am on Friday to make a decision.

"It is not possible to to be the Deputy Premier and a minister of the cabinet and sit on the crossbench," Ms Berejiklian said.

"It is a long established convention that members of a cabinet must support government legislation."

The Premier said that although her preference is for the existing Coalition arrangement to remain in place, she will swear in new ministers on Friday if required.

EARLIER

THE NSW Nationals says it will sit on the crossbench and not support Coalition legislation until the government changes planning regulations that would give farmers responsibility for managing koalas on their properties.

The Nationals say the laws, designed to protect koala habit, will drastically limit the way farmers and property owners can manage their land.

The laws were passed in December and were signed off on the advice of an executive council that had two Nationals ministers; Kevin Anderson and Bronnie Taylor.

In a statement, the NSW Nationals said the party would no longer attend joint party room or parliamentary leadership meetings and would abstain from voting on government bills, effectively placing the whole party on the crossbench.

READ MORE: Koala policy should back landholders

However, the party said it reserved the right to support bills and motions important to regional NSW.

"The National Party wants to see a thriving koala population NSW, even a doubling of the population but this [policy] does not achieve this," the party's statement says.

"It is a blunt instrument to make city-centric law makers feel good about themselves."

The party's unusual action to withdraw from the Coalition was triggered by last week's announcement by Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis that he would move to the crossbench if a compromise could not be found in dealing with the new Koala SEPP.

The new policy's guidelines, earlier this year came under fire for the significantly expanded tree species now listed as koala critical, from 10 species up to 123.

The SEPP also significantly broadens the definition of core koala habitat.

All this in turn has generated concerns around rural job security.

After Mr Gulaptis' threat last week, state farming body NSW Farmers also put forward a set of proposed changes, which include:

  • All land zoned RU1 and RU2 to be excluded from the Koala SEPP Development of a fit for purpose approach to managing impacts on koalas in the farming landscape under the Land Management Code.
  • A process for landholders to review, ground truth and appeal the regulatory maps An agreed upon verification process for sightings No buffers imposed on adjoining land.
  • A halt on the operationalisation of the new SEPP until landholders are provided with the opportunity to review and groundtruth the mapping.

Also read:Farmers make voices heard over new Koala plan

The legislation came into effect on March 1, 2020, after which it then went on public display and was opened for public comment.

The submissions for that process closed in May, but remains under review.

Last week, Shooters, fishers and farmers party Senator Mark Banasiak said he had already tried to introduce an amendment to protect primary producers from city-centric regulation, but because a SEPP was an environmental planning instrument (EPI) authorised by the Governor, it fell outside of parliamentary scrutiny.

"Therefore," he said. "It cannot simply be amended in the house, like any other form of legislation," he said.

"This being so, the advice I am seeking will be how best to bring EPIs, Koala SEPP and all other EPIs, under parliamentary scrutiny.

"This will require some serious reworking of the Environment Planning and Assessment Act, the end result will be that we will be able scrutinise all those incredibly sneaky environmental policies government tries to sneak through."

Also read:Koala SEPP: There must be compromise says NFF

Australian National University political science emeritus professor John Warhurst said if the Nationals pledge to give confidence to the government - that is supporting the Coalition to form government, but not supporting its legislation - the move wouldn't bring down the government.

But it will cause "absolute chaos and a major disruption" to the government.

Although the situation might work temporarily, it would break down in the long run as the Nationals were "effectively blackmailing the government".

"There is a huge barney underway now and it's up to the Nationals to explain to the community what was so important that they would want to effectively grind the government to a halt," Professor Warhurst said.

"This will make for a very tense relationship between Liberals and the Nationals for the remainder of parliament."

The Nationals have declared they won't be giving up any ministerial positions, however Prof Warhurst said the party was trying to have it both ways.

"You can't have ministers sitting on the crossbench and voting against the government," he said.

The story Premier gives Nationals ultimatum: ministers or crossbenchers first appeared on Farm Online.

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