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Australian state leader threatens to sack ministers over koalas protection

Thousands of koalas died during wildfires in the last southern hemisphere summer
By Rod McGuirk

An Australian state leader has shut down a revolt in her coalition government over a policy to protect koala habitat by threatening to remove seven renegade ministers.

The Nationals party, which is the junior coalition partner in the conservative Liberal Party-led New South Wales state, threatened to effectively split the government because they argue the koala habitat policy would restrict how landowners could manage their land.

Thousands of koalas died during wildfires in the last southern hemisphere summer and much of their habitat in New South Wales was razed.

Deputy premier John Barilaro, who leads the rural-based Nationals, threatened to stop supporting government legislation, boycott government meetings and sit separately from Liberal MPs in parliament over the policy difference.

But he and another six Nationals ministers planned to keep their cabinet posts.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian threatened to fire all the Nationals ministers unless the party withdrew by its threat to break the coalition agreement by Friday morning.

The Nationals buckled. Ms Berejiklian and Mr Barilaro released a brief joint statement saying their coalition arrangement remains in place.

Differences over the koala habitat policy "will be dealt with at an upcoming Cabinet meeting", the statement said.

Mr Barilaro described the outcome as a political win because it elevated koalas on the government agenda.

"We never wanted to blow up the coalition," Mr Barilaro told reporters. "But yesterday we had to do what we had to do to bring this high up on the agenda of the government."

The public fight is seen as destabilising the government as it grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, Ms Berejiklian's deputy in the Liberal Party, said such disputes between the coalition partners should be resolved in private.

"This is an issue that's obviously got some strong views on either side," Mr Perrottet said.

"What's most important is that we have a united team. That team is now united."

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