WHEN most workplaces wound down for Chrismas-New Year, NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro was on the road being told his MPs are Liberal lapdogs.
The Deputy Premier said voters did not mince their words during his regional tour and it was clear his party had “lost its edge” and become too friendly with the NSW Liberals under the leadership of Troy Grant and Andrew Stoner.
“(Our) party has been built on strong foundations, on individual champions – and over the past number of years that has been watered down,” Mr Barilaro said.
The harsh feedback, if not the opportunity provided by the retirement of Mike Baird, has emboldened Mr Barilaro to reset the Coalition agenda with new Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
On Friday he declared forced council mergers were over, that the Coalition agreement was a blank sheet of paper, and that anyone not sitting at the table was a pretender.
Haggling is underway with Ms Berejiklian on the Nats’ ministries for the new-look cabinet, while this week Mr Barilaro vowed to bring a number of regional projects forward after an unexpected surplus from poles and wires sales.
While remains to be seen if the Nationals have the tough walk to match the tough talk, Mr Barilaro said the new year was an opportunity to reset and refresh.
He said the party had revisited motions from state conferences over the past decade to examine what grassroots members wanted, and what areas they've strayed away on.
A bullish stance on regional infrastructure spending has also been identified as key to shedding the perception The Nationals only cared about the city.
“There’s no reason (regional funding allocation) can’t be more (than 30 per cent),” he said.
“And while we've got a lot guaranteed, the priority has been in Sydney in delivering it.”
Mr Barilaro was full of praise for Ms Berejiklian and said he was reassured by her comments so far on the importance of regional NSW.
He also said there was no risk of reversal of rural-interest reform, including native vegetation laws, aor another government backflip on the greyhound racing ban.
While Mike Baird hailed the buyback of the Caroona mine licence as a hallmark achievement of his government, Mr Barilaro said coal and coal seam gas remained important to the state’s energy needs.
“We need to protect our agricultural land, but it is about getting the balance right," he said.
“I do believe coal and CSG can co-exist with farming.
”Energy is becoming a big issue for households and industry. We have to be careful not to price ourselves out.”
‘Only our mistakes will allow others in’
DEPUTY Premier John Barilaro says only Nationals Party stuff-ups will hand future seats to minor parties.
With two years until the state election Mr Barilaro said his MPs were hyper-aware of the threat of the Shooters, Fishers, and Farmers Party, as well as One Nation and country independents.
But he said there would be no repeat of the Orange by-election if his party performed.
“I think the only reason Labor, One Nation or the Shooters and Fishers will have an opportunity is if we allow them to have an opportunity,” Mr Barilaro said.
“You don't win government - you lose government. The threat (of minor parties) is real, but if we get it right, we won't open the door for them.”
Mr Barilaro said he had learnt there was no such thing as a safe seat.
“I am on 2.5 per cent in my own electorate. Others are at 20 per cent. Both could lose. But the main thing is to do the most you can for your community.”