Nats MP quits, calls Barilaro ’reckless and unreasonable’
Port Macquarie MP Leslie Williams has quit the Nationals over John Barilaro's handling of controversial koala protection rules, in a move set to reignite tensions over the Deputy Premier's leadership.
Ms Williams said she quit the party and applied to join the Liberals over Mr Barilaro's "politically reckless and unreasonable" actions.
Senior Liberals were last night describing the defection as an example of the "Barilaro effect," citing four seats lost under his leadership.
Ms Williams last week told Mr Barilaro that she wouldn't support a threat to "effectively" sit on the crossbench unless concerns with koala protection rules were addressed.
Despite Mr Barilaro backing down from that threat, Ms Williams has now quit the party and will seek to serve as a Liberal MP.
"Sadly, the events of the past weeks and months have cemented my decision to resign as a member of the NSW Nationals effective immediately," Ms Williams said in a statement.
"I have today made (an) application to join the Liberal Party."
The Liberal Party's state executive was set to hold a fax ballot last night on whether to accept Ms Williams into the party.
Senior sources indicated Ms Williams would definitely be accepted with the support of moderate and centre-right factions. That's despite one state executive member raising questions about whether she would be allowed to join.
Ms Williams said Mr Barilaro's bid to "hold the Premier and the Government to ransom during this COVID-19 pandemic was unnecessary, unhelpful and frankly politically reckless and unreasonable".
The Nationals leader didn't face a challenge to his leadership at a party room meeting last week, but ahead of that meeting two of his MPs declined to endorse him as the leader.
Ms Williams has previously called for Mr Barilaro to resign, after The Daily Telegraph revealed he called Andrew Constance a "c…".
Senior Liberals were last night suggesting Mr Barilaro's leadership was under threat over the defection.
Prior to Ms Williams' resignation last night, the Nationals lost three seats at the 2019 election.
A Nationals source described the defection as an "attack on John Barilaro while he is on leave".
The party's NSW chairman Andrew Fraser said it was "disappointing".
"The NSW Nationals have delivered significant investment in Port Macquarie, and it is disappointing that Leslie has decided to leave," Mr Fraser said in a statement.
"We wish Leslie all the best."
Her resignation from the Nationals comes after Mr Barilaro took up to four weeks leavem citing mental health concerns.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian yesterday said Mr Barilaro would receive any help he needs while on leave.
"I've personally made sure he knows that if he needs any support, he will get that, and I wish him and his family well during this time," she said.
Meanwhile, NSW Farmers has today launched a new push against the koala protection rules. In an advertising campaign running from today, the peak body has called for the government to "engage with farmers not against them to protect koalas," and "refocus the Koala SEPP to protect koalas on the edge of our large urban centres".
Originally published as Nats MP quits, calls Barilaro 'reckless and unreasonable'