Lefty Libs aim to ‘neutralise’ John Barilaro
MODERATE Liberal MPs have openly discussed how to neutralise Deputy Premier John Barilaro, even canvassing their preferred candidates to replace him as Nationals leader.
A number of MPs attending a dinner of the moderate faction on Wednesday complained how Mr Barilaro, who has clashed with Energy Minister Matt Kean, was a problem for the state Coalition and expressed a desire to divert his policy attacks to a "new target" such as Labor or the Greens.
One noted that Mr Kean was being criticised "almost daily" by broadcaster Alan Jones.
The dinner even openly speculated which senior Nationals could replace Mr Barilaro if the Deputy PM were to leave parliament and run for the federal seat of Eden Monaro, specifically who would be an easier leader to deal with in future.
Paul Toole and Adam Marshall were discussed by the Liberals as possible future leaders, with MPs noting that Mr Toole would be better for the moderates to work with. Asked yesterday about the remarks, one MP present at the dinner interpreted this as Mr Toole being a "softer target" and easier to bring on board with Liberal policies, while another MP said Mr Toole was considered a "cooler head".
One minister expressed concern that Mr Barilaro wanted to split the Coalition and follow a WA model of an Liberal/National "alliance".
Such an alliance would guarantee supply but allow the Nationals to speak out on cabinet decisions.
An MP at the pizza-and-wine dinner at Parliament House said the open discussions about the Nationals leader were an indication the NSW Coalition agreement was "precarious".
The conversation about Mr Barilaro, which was one of many at the dinner, comes after a series of attacks by the Deputy Premier on government policy managed by Mr Kean's departments in recent months including grain train emissions reduction and hazard reduction activities before the bushfires. These attacks were seen as a defence of Mr Barilaro's bush constituency.
The regular gathering that canvasses factional plans and updates was attended by senior moderates including ministers Don Harwin, Rob Stokes, Mr Kean, Gareth Ward and Mark Speakman. Assistant speaker Mark Coure also attended in the Speaker's dining room along with a string of backbenchers.
The Saturday Telegraph confirmed the details of the dinner with multiple MPs present. One noted that the dinner was regularly "gossipy" and another agreed it was more akin to a "social dinner between friends".
Mr Barilaro told The Telegraph he did not take offence to remarks at the dinner. "I see it as an endorsement of my strength in the National Party and in fighting for my beliefs and the issues important to the bush," he said last night.
Today he will launch an action plan at the Beers to the Bush Festival in Dubbo, aimed at helping brewers to take their beers to markets across the Asia-Pacific.