Politics can be brutal. So it was no surprise this week to hear that the NSW Nationals party leader John Barilaro needed to take a break for his mental health.
John had had a grueling fortnight fighting with his Coalition colleagues in the Liberal Party.
Many senior Liberals were calling for him to resign because he had threatened to leave the Coalition over the National party’s concerns about proposed laws to protect koalas.
There was a public pile on John too. There is a lot of pressure in politics to conform to a “right“ set of ideas. If you depart from the opinions of the polite dinner party set the reaction can be relentless. More so when you are easily, but incorrectly, branded a “koala killer“.
New South Wales’s koala laws are arcane but it is a story familiar to us here in Central Queensland. Some well-meaning, green-leaning bureaucrats, in a capital city, decide that they can manage an environment they barely visit, better than those who live on the land.
The result is a policy that sounds nice - who could be against protecting koalas - but has as much connection to reality as a Green-led, inner-city council trying to solve the Middle East peace crisis.
In this case, the government proposed increasing the number of koala protected tree species from 10 to over 120. One of these trees included the camphor laurel, even though another part of the NSW Government’s website recommends the use of glysophate to remove the same tree. The website provides no solution to the dilemma of how a farmer must simultaneously apply weed killer to the camphor laurel, and protect it for use by koalas.
John’s threat to blow up the NSW Government was dramatic but it would probably remove these absurdities, when the NSW Government reconsiders the laws in coming weeks.
John’s approach wasn’t pretty but it was pretty effective. Without John’s intervention it is unlikely that the spotlight would have turned on these issues, and farmers would have to suffer under the benign disregard of the distant public officer.
In country areas, we sometimes have to be willing to get a bloody nose to make a difference. Last year ahead of the Federal election some members of the Liberal Party tried to stop the Adani project. The Federal Department of Environment recommended we approve Adani but as one Liberal said to me “we can’t approve this project, because we might lose seats in Melbourne”.
I hit the hit roof. When a meeting to resolve the impasse failed to reach a conclusion, I returned to my office and drafted a resignation letter as the Minister for Resources. Word spread of my action and many tried to talk me out of that course of action.
The election was just a week away from kicking off. But in conscience I could not save my job and put thousands of others out of work. My job was to do all I could to save their jobs. It was wrong to let the views of Melbourne dictate what would happen at Moranbah. So I stuck to my guns, Adani was approved and the Liberal National Party was unexpectedly reelected. As we saw this week, 1500 people are now employed at the mine.
Politics can be brutal but it can also be rewarding when you fight for your values and win. We need more people like John Barilaro in politics. We would have a better system if more of our elected officials were willing to get a bloodied nose for a higher cause and the general good. I wish John and his family all the best.