'I HAD TO GET OUT'

O’BRIEN SPILLS ON NATS EXIT

Sunshine Coast Daily - - FRONT PAGE - [email protected]­news.com.au SCOTT SAWYER

COAST MP Llew O’Brien says his stance against milk­ing the pub­lic purse led to him be­ing os­tracised by his party.

STRADDLING his mo­tor­bike, rid­ing north to a mate’s place at the base of Cape York Penin­sula to muster cat­tle, Wide Bay MP Llew O’Brien was happy to be a no­body.

Days ear­lier he’d been des­per­ately urg­ing some of his Na­tion­als col­leagues not to milk the pub­lic purse for travel to a well-pub­li­cised love-in at Nagam­bie, Vic­to­ria, which co­in­cided with the start of the Spring Rac­ing Car­ni­val.

“I have a strong sense of right and wrong,” the for­mer foren­sic crash unit cop said.

“I know where my lim­its are psy­cho­log­i­cally.

“It made me feel good to pay for my­self and ride in the op­po­site di­rec­tion to where they were go­ing.”

He had some wins in the Nagam­bie bat­tle last Novem­ber, but re­turn­ing from his head-clear­ing trip north, he was left dis­mayed again.

Os­tracised for his stance against the Nagam­bie trip, he learnt the plan was on to once again lean on the tax­payer for a trip to Mel­bourne, for a party-room meet­ing de­lib­er­ately sched­uled to co­in­cide with the Na­tion­als’ 100th an­niver­sary din­ner at a five-star Mel­bourne ho­tel in March.

“I spoke to peo­ple who should’ve been able to con­trol these things, and they didn’t,” Mr O’Brien told the Daily.

That, cou­pled with other pol­icy is­sues and the re­al­i­sa­tion his most sig­nif­i­cant acts in par­lia­ment had been atodds with the party’s po­si­tion, crys­tallised in his mind the path for­ward.

Mr O’Brien said he re­alised he could no longer be in the room, that the peo­ple of Wide Bay hadn’t sent him to Can­berra to wage in­ter­nal bat­tles.

“It’s (call­ing lead­er­ship spill) some­thing that I took very, very se­ri­ously,” Mr O’Brien said.

The spill failed, and it be­came ob­vi­ous to Mr O’Brien he had a fight on his hands to stop a rort of tax­payer dol­lars to fund the Cen­te­nary Event/ party-room meet­ing travel ex­penses.

He told Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son of his in­ten­tion to leave the party but re­main in the gov­ern­ment.

“When I spoke to Scott (Mor­ri­son) … for the first time in quite some time it felt like I was talk­ing to a leader who un­der­stood the grav­ity of what I was say­ing,” Mr O’Brien said.

An agree­ment was struck, Mr O’Brien could re­main in the joint party room, but would no longer be a Na­tion­als mem­ber. He was still Llew O’Brien, LNP.

Mr O’Brien said he walked into the now fa­mous Ques­tion Time on Tues­day with no ex­pec­ta­tion of be­ing in a vote for the po­si­tion of Deputy Speaker.

He was told Vic­to­rian MP Damien Drum, Na­tion­als Party whip, the man re­spon­si­ble for or­gan­is­ing par­ty­room meet­ings, was go­ing for the role of Deputy Speaker.

When he learnt Flynn MP Ken O’Dowd wouldn’t chal­lenge Mr Drum, Mr O’Brien said he sounded out the cross­bench, who he said were “en­thu­si­as­tic” about him go­ing for the po­si­tion.

He ad­vised col­leagues in his party and ex­pected a nom­i­na­tion from the LNP to fol­low.

“I had no deal­ings with the La­bor Party,” Mr O’Brien said.

Sit­ting out­side the cham­ber, await­ing his nom­i­na­tion,

Mr O’Brien said he was stunned when La­bor MP Tony Burke put Mr O’Brien’s name for­ward.

“My mind did a very quick cal­cu­la­tion,” he said.

“It wasn’t some­thing I’d an­tic­i­pated, but it didn’t change the in­tent, or whether it was right or wrong.

“In do­ing so (ac­cept­ing the nom­i­na­tion) I know I made some of my col­leagues un­happy,” he said, a chal­lenge for the un­der­state­ment of the decade.

“I felt it was the right thing to do, tak­ing every­thing into ac­count.”

Af­ter giv­ing 15 years of his life to con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics, Mr O’Brien said he took no joy out of what he did, but it was some­thing he felt he truly had to do.

“I’ve taken the path less trav­elled, and the path comes at a per­sonal cost,” he said.

The cost wasn’t just per­sonal.

Mr O’Brien gave up the added salary of chair­ing two com­mit­tees and said he took about a 2 per cent pay cut to take on the Deputy Speaker role.

“There was no pay rise,” he said.

He said he was fo­cused on his dual roles now, and the chal­lenge to es­tab­lish a Federal anti-cor­rup­tion body.

But the man who left high school in Grade 9 to nurse his mo­tor neu­rone dis­ease-suf­fer­ing mother un­til her death, who worked on farms and in fac­to­ries, do­ing what­ever he could to sur­vive, isn’t one to shy away from chal­lenges.

“I know what it’s like to work hard, earn a very mod­est in­come and have to pay tax, all while sup­port­ing a lit­tle fam­ily,” he said.

“They’re the ex­pe­ri­ences that drive my con­science.”

Pic­ture: Caitlin Zer­afa

AWK­WARD: Wide Bay MP Llew O'Brien (left) and Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Michael McCor­mack at Sun­shine Beach.

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