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Coalition calls truce amid bickering over MP’s sacking

Relations between the NSW coalition partners are tense after a post by Nationals MP Wes Fang. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

By Alex Mitchell and Jack Gramenz in Sydney

An uneasy truce has been struck in NSW coalition ranks but simmering tensions remain as leaders trade veiled barbs after the sacking of a rogue MP.

A joint statement on Tuesday confirming the sacking of Nationals upper-house member Wes Fang from the shadow ministry also proclaimed a “reaffirmed” coalition agreement between the junior party and the Liberals.

It followed Mr Fang publicly accusing Liberal and Opposition Leader Mark Speakman of “pretending” to care about his region, prompting a move to strip him of his shadow portfolio.

Nationals Leader Dugald Saunders initially dug his heels in and refused to acknowledge the demotion before striking a peace deal with the intervention of senior Liberal figures, including former premier Dominic Perrottet.

But internal friction was barely contained after the agreement was confirmed on Tuesday, when Mr Speakman suggested Mr Fang only “claimed” to live in Wagga Wagga and added he was more interested in speaking with independent Joe McGirr, the local independent MP.

Mr Saunders denied the opposition leader’s swipe was unnecessary but added “the facts speak for themselves”.

“(Mr Fang) was born there, did school there, did uni there, worked there for the army … if you ask anyone there where Wes is from, they would say Wagga Wagga without a breath,” he told AAP.

Mr Fang, who has been contacted for comment, accused the opposition leader in a controversial social media post of “slinking” into his home town on Wednesday and pretending to care about the Riverina region.

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

The state Liberal leader also took aim at his Nationals counterpart, suggesting Mr Saunders had “every opportunity” to sack Mr Fang before he took matters into his own hands.

“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,” Mr Speakman said.

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

The Nationals leader agreed Mr Fang’s comments were out of line but said he wanted to let things calm down before deciding on his future.

“Reacting when there’s extreme circumstances and people are jumping up and down, doesn’t often get the best results,” Mr Saunders said.

“Mark and I literally had a disagreement about how something should be handled … we’re adults, adults have disagreements, and guess what, you get back on the horse.”

Mr Saunders encouraged Liberal members to meet with Nationals colleagues in regional areas, adding “we have a great ability to achieve things when we stick together”.

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

Mr Fang’s post that sparked the fracas accused Mr Speakman of behaving in an “underhanded” way by not informing him he was going to Wagga Wagga.

“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?” his post read.

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

Mr Fang retains his role as deputy opposition whip in the upper house, a position that attracts an extra $22,435 in salary and allowances.

His shadow assistant ministry did not involve a pay premium.

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

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