‘Had to call it out’: coalition fight ends as MP sacked

Alex Mitchell and Jack Gramenz |

Relations between the NSW coalition partners are tense after a post by Nationals MP Wes Fang.
Relations between the NSW coalition partners are tense after a post by Nationals MP Wes Fang.

A coalition ceasefire has been reached, but the NSW opposition leader says he is not holding his breath for an apology after a Nationals colleague publicly accused him of “pretending” to care about his region.

Tensions within the NSW coalition have been temporarily calmed after the Nationals accepted the sacking of rogue upper house MP, Wes Fang, from his shadow ministry.

The junior coalition partner initially dismissed suggestions that he could be removed based on a decision from Liberal leader Mark Speakman.

But Mr Speakman, the state opposition leader, and Nationals leader Dugald Saunders struck a peace deal on Monday night, confirming Mr Fang’s sacking.

That deal was only made after the intervention of senior Liberal figures, including former premier Dominic Perrottet.

Mr Fang had accused the opposition leader of “slinking” into his home town of Wagga Wagga and pretending to care about the Riverina in a social media post.

His shadow portfolio, in the assistant ministry for police and emergency services, was removed from the NSW parliament website on Monday.

NSW Opposition Leader Mark Speakman
A Nationals MP accused opposition leader Mark Speakman of “slinking” into Wagga Wagga. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Speakman said he spoke with Mr Fang on Friday before initially announcing his sacking and made it clear the behaviour would not be tolerated.

“What’s the alternative?” he told reporters on Tuesday morning.

“Is the alternative to stand by and let an MP attack the opposition leader, attack expressly the Liberal Party? You have to enforce standards, you have to call it out.

“As a leader I have to do the bleedingly obvious, which is to discipline MPs who fall short of the standards we expect.”

Liberal MPs were said to be seriously contemplating blowing up the coalition agreement if the Nationals did not accept the sacking.

Mr Speakman said he gave Mr Saunders “every opportunity” to discipline Mr Fan, and only intervened when the Nationals leader refused to accept the sacking.

“I have a very good relationship with Dugald Saunders,” he said.

“We have had some robust but pretty civil conversations over the last several days, and I’m very confident we can go forward as a united coalition.

“When those opportunities weren’t taken up, I elected to exercise my prerogative … and sack Mr Fang myself.”

The fracas was sparked by a controversial post by Mr Fang that accused Mr Speakman of behaving in an “underhanded” way by not informing him he was going to Wagga Wagga on Wednesday.

“So … the leader of the NSW Liberals Mark Speakman, slinks into #WaggaWagga, pretending like the Libs actually care about the Riverina,” Mr Fang’s post read.

“Did he ask the ‘coalition’ member who lives in Wagga Wagga and is apparently part of his ‘team’ to have an in-depth discussion of Wagga Wagga issues?

“No. In fact, he didn’t even have the courtesy to let me know he was coming.”

Despite issuing a joint statement with Mr Saunders asserting the situation was put to bed, Mr Speakman took a number of shots at Mr Fang on Tuesday.

The opposition leader said Mr Fang “claimed” to live in Wagga Wagga, adding that he was more interested in speaking with independent lower-house MP Joe McGirr, the local member.

When asked if he expected the Nationals MP to give an apology, Mr Speakman added: “I wouldn’t hold your breath for one.”