‘Struggles’: NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro takes four weeks’ mental health leave | Australia news

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The NSW Nationals party leader, John Barilaro, is taking mental health leave from parliament following a tumultuous 10 days during which he threatened to blow up the Coalition government over koala protections before backing down.

Barilaro, the deputy premier, told his party room colleagues by text message on Friday afternoon that he would take up to four weeks’ leave to work on his mental health.

In the text, Barilaro apologised for not being the leader they wanted him to be, but stressed he would not have acted differently on the issue of koala protections.

He said some of the party room knew of “his struggles” and he intended to work on these issues during the break.

Barilaro’s leave is likely to act as a circuit breaker regarding the crisis within the Coalition and means his deputy, Paul Toole, will have carriage of the negotiations with the Liberal premier, Gladys Berejiklian, over the terms of the koala habitat protections state environmental planning policy. The Sepp is due to be discussed in cabinet on 6 October.

Berejiklian issued a statement on Friday evening. “This afternoon deputy premier John Barilaro advised me he would take four weeks of personal leave,” she said. “I have offered him any support he may need. I wish John and his family all the best during this time.”

Last week, Barilaro threw down the gauntlet to the premier and the planning minister, Rob Stokes, saying he intended to move a bill to repeal his own government’s Sepp.

He said he planned to take the Nationals MPs to the crossbenches where they would abstain from voting for any legislation until the Liberals capitulated on the koala laws. But he said his ministers intended to stay in their jobs.

Berejilkian responded by making it clear she was prepared to swear in a new ministry if he did not back down by the following morning.

The Nationals continued to back Barilaro in his risky strategy but at the crisis talks with the premier last Friday he backed down and agreed to debate the Sepp in the cabinet as was already planned.

The damaging split has infuriated senior Liberals who publicly called his leadership “untenable” and his actions “an act of political bastardry”.

Despite bringing the coalition to the brink, Barilaro continued this week in parliament to refuse to guarantee not to threaten the Coalition again, saying he would instead “guarantee to act in the interests of rural and regional NSW”.

This drew more public criticisms from his Liberal colleagues and a no-confidence motion from Labor. It was defeated on party lines but not one Liberal spoke up for Barilaro.

Under pressure in question time Barilaro seemed agitated at times. A spokeswoman on Friday evening said Barilaro would take up to four weeks’ leave to “focus on his wellbeing and mental health”.

“Last week has taken its toll. He never takes holidays even though we urge him to, and so he’s going to reset and recharge,” she said.

There have been no formal moves within the Nationals to replace Barilaro as leader though there is deep unhappiness among some about the events of the last fortnight.



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