Member for Monaro and NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro will be hoping a month is a long time in politics when he returns to work on Wednesday, 21 October, as scheduled following a mental health break.
There were shock revelations at an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) hearing last week regarding NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s relationship with disgraced former Liberal Member for Wagga Wagga Daryl Maguire, and major questions remain over how tenable her leadership is.
Mr Barilaro has been the NSW Nationals leader and Deputy Premier since November 2016, but made a sudden announcement on 18 September that he would take four weeks’ leave to take care of his mental health.
A spokesperson for Mr Barilaro told Region Media at the time “it has been a big year for him” and that he made the decision after surviving a no-confidence motion in NSW Parliament.
In text messages reported by 7News, Mr Barilaro told colleagues: “Some of you are aware of the issues I have been dealing with, added with the past 10 days, I’m not in a good way. On strong advice I really need this time for me.
“I’m struggling. I have never felt this way and I need to address everything I’m facing … I will be back stronger than before.”
Ms Berejiklian gave the Nationals leader her full support at the time, saying in a statement: “This afternoon, deputy premier John Barilaro advised me he would take four weeks of personal leave. I have offered him any support he may need. I wish John and his family all the best during this time.”
Mr Barilaro had faced intense scrutiny in NSW Parliament after he and his National Party colleagues threatened to walk away from their Coalition agreement with the Liberals over new legislation intended to protect koala habitat, but which the Nationals said would have a dire effect on farmers’ ability to manage their land.
Senior Liberals Upper House member Catherine Cusack accused Mr Barilaro of treating the NSW Premier with “extreme contempt” during the crisis and said Nationals MPs had been “herded into a corner” by Mr Barilaro.
“The whole strategy is 100 per cent bullying,” said Ms Cusack.
Mr Barilaro has been the minister responsible for disaster recovery, leading recovery efforts following the Black Summer bushfires across NSW. He also went through a particularly bruising Eden-Monaro preselection stoush with neighbouring Liberal MP and NSW Minister for Transport and Roads Andrew Constance.
The latter ended with explosive allegations around texts Mr Barilaro sent to Federal Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.
Mr Barilaro’s father, Domenico, also died earlier this year.
“He is just taking four weeks to look after his mental health,” said the spokesperson. “This year has been a really tough year and he’s just going to take some time off to regroup.”
The Liberal Party holds 36 seats in the NSW Parliament, governing in Coalition with the Nationals, who hold 12 seats. There are also three Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MPs and three independents, in addition to Labor and the Greens.
Analysts believe Ms Berejiklian will survive as premier at least in the short-term while she enjoys the support of the Liberal party room and voter approval over her handling of the bushfires and COVID-19.
Political observers say there is currently no alternative Liberal leader to unite behind, but depending on the outcome of further ICAC hearings, support for Ms Berejiklian could ebb away if those salvos find their mark.