Western Australian premier Colin Barnett has stared down a challenge to his leadership posed by two ministers resigning, vowing to stay on as leader.
The transport minister Dean Nalder’s resignation follows the local government minister Tony Simpson’s decision to quit the cabinet in a rebellion against the premier on Saturday, just six months out from the 11 March election.
Both ministers have said they have no confidence in Barnett, who was elected premier eight years ago this month.
On Sunday Nalder explained he had resigned due to a breakdown in cabinet process and communication between himself and the premier. He said he would not move a spill motion but would stand if a spill was called because he wanted a change in leadership.
At a press conference on Sunday before Nalder clarified his position, Barnett said he would stay on as premier and had “unfinished business” in the role.
“I am the leader; I am the premier of Western Australia and I intend to stay there,” he said.
Barnett refused to call a spill of the leadership unless a challenger emerged.
“You need a challenger. If someone says they’re going to challenge for the leadership, yes, there will be a spill motion. But I cannot see a challenger in sight.”
The Western Australian premier blasted the pair of resigning ministers, saying he was “extremely disappointed in both Tony Simpson and Dean Nalder that they did not have the courage or integrity to tell me of their decision face to face, or even on the telephone”.
“Why would you suddenly resign over a weekend? There is something orchestrated about this. I don’t know what the plan or plot is, but I simply get on with my job.”
Barnett said that he would replace the two ministers “as quickly as possible” to ensure “minimal disruption to the structure of the cabinet”.
Nalder, who is considered a leadership aspirant, told the Sunday Times on Saturday night: “Colin is making irrational decisions without consultation with respect to ministers or cabinet”.
Simpson also said on Saturday he no longer supported the premier, adding the state government had lost its way.
“I don’t think, honestly, I can sit in cabinet anymore and be part of a government making decisions when I don’t believe it’s going in the right direction,” he told reporters.
“Our government has won two elections on good policy and good leadership … Now it’s actually lost its way.
“Unless we make changes now, winning a third election seems very unlikely,” he said.
Speaking at a press conference after Barnett’s, Nalder said he had sought a meeting with the premier over a period of six months to discuss issues in his portfolio with the Perth freight link, but was refused.
Nalder said he was unaware of announcements in his portfolio, in what he said was fair to describe as a complete breakdown of cabinet government.
“I’m at a position where I can’t continue any further with the current leadership,” Nalder said.
“I would like to see a leadership change, I’m not looking to bring on a spill motion but it is a party room decision.”
He confirmed he would nominate if others brought a spill motion, and noted there were “others that have been pushing for change for some time”.
Nalder said he was offended Barnett had claimed he had not contacted him, explaining that he had called and left a message for the premier on Friday night but did not receive a return call.
Nalder denied that he and Simpson had orchestrated their resignations, and said he was “surprised” by Simpson’s decision to resign.
Barnett defended his leadership on the charge of failing to consult, saying: “People accuse me of being arrogant or the emperor; well maybe I’m decisive.
“You elect members of parliament, you elect premiers and ministers to make decisions for the community and hopefully they make the right decisions.”
The damning criticisms came as a ReachTel poll of 1,724 people was published in the West Australian newspaper putting Labor ahead 51-49 on a two-party preferred basis, which is closer than previous polls.
Barnett noted the poll and said the government was basically 50/50 in the election. “Six months out, being the incumbent, I’m pretty happy with that,” he said.