Premier ‘entirely relaxed’ about Kean, Barilaro war of words
Premier Gladys Berejiklian will not intervene to stop an escalating public spat between Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Environment Minister Matt Kean, saying she is "entirely relaxed" about how it is reflecting on the government.
It comes after Mr Barilaro wrote to Environment Mr Kean urging an "immediate halt" on a push to restrict freight train emissions, which farmers warn will hurt them and put more trucks on the road.
He lashed out at his colleague again this morning on 2GB, where he reiterated his position that the issue is "undermining" the Liberal-National Coalition.
Ms Berejiklian said it was "entirely appropriate" for ministers to have debates "so long as (they) are had in a respectful way".
"I don't begrudge my colleagues for expressing themselves," she told reporters in Parramatta.
"It's up to others to comment and notice on what ministers say publicly but … if it's not government policy and we're in the process of determining issues, it's entirely appropriate for people to express their views."
"I'm entirely relaxed about that."
Ms Berejiklian also said she had "not seen or heard anything that's of concern".
Mr Kean has accused the Nationals leader of being aware of the freight train emissions policy for more than six months but waiting until the last moment to take it up with him.
"My office informed the Deputy Premier's office of this initiative in July last year. Up until 3pm (Tuesday) he has not raised any issues on this topic directly with me," Mr Kean said in a statement.
In a bizarre tit-for-tat that threatens to overshadow the concerns of farmers, Mr Barilaro then insisted it was his office that first alerted Mr Kean's to the issues last year.
The Daily Telegraph has requested ministerial correspondence to confirm which timeline is accurate but this was not provided by deadline.
The ministerial brawl came as the state's peak motoring body, the NRMA, joined Mr Barilaro in urging caution by the state's Environmental Protection Agency in its plans to place pollution and noise restrictions on freight trains.
The Daily Telegraph revealed on Monday that a group of agricultural leaders, including the NSW Farmers Association, had written to Mr Kean warning the proposed standards would hurt farmers and put more trucks on the road to carry grain in lieu of trains, thereby increasing emissions.
In a statement, Mr Barilaro accused the EPA of a "continued attack on regional NSW".
"It has reached a point where it is undermining the strong coalition partnership in NSW. I strongly advise the minister to stop encouraging it," he said.
Mr Kean said last night he welcomed his colleagues "opening a policy conversation on any topic in my portfolio and the Deputy Premier's views will be considered as part of the process".
"This is about getting the balance right between the economic and operational requirements of industry and the community's expectation to be protected from unreasonable noise and air pollution. The government has a commitment to increase the share of freight on rail and this proposal will complement that commitment by building on work already undertaken by industry," he said.
Mr Barilaro was supported by his Nationals colleague and Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall, who said: "I won't abide a punitive attack on our farmers by a bunch of city-based ideologues in the EPA."
There is a meeting scheduled next week between the farmers leading the push against the standards and the EPA.
NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury said a "workable solution" was critical because "more heavy vehicles on regional highways already struggling is not going to be in the community's best interest".