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Barnett ordered Nalder to take time off

AAP logoAAP 29/08/2016

WA Premier Colin Barnett ordered Agriculture Minister Dean Nalder to take one week off and not attend a regional cabinet meeting following "turmoil" last week over a controversial opinion poll funded by businesspeople.

Mr Nalder was banned from cabinet in Moora, in the state's Wheatbelt region, on Monday after meeting with the premier on Friday about the poll, which indicated the Liberals would lose the March election if Mr Barnett remained leader.

The transport minister, who is considered a leadership aspirant, admitted he had prior knowledge about the poll, but Mr Barnett decided not to dump him from cabinet and Mr Nalder instead publicly pledged his support for the premier after their meeting.

"I thought it was a good idea that he didn't come to this cabinet meeting, and that indeed he took a couple of days off, and that's what we agreed to do," Mr Barnett told reporters on Monday.

"It was my decision and I stand by it."

The premier said it was the smartest and easiest option after their "civilised discussion", adding he did not believe Mr Nalder should be sacked.

"I don't see evidence that Dean has breached the ministerial code," he said.

Mr Barnett said members of parliament were quite distressed by what happened and described the political interference by businesspeople as a precedent that had caused turmoil.

"I remain extremely concerned that a group of businesspeople would seek to interfere with our political process and our system of government, and clearly that's unacceptable," he said.

Mr Barnett denied claims of a "witch hunt" against the businesspeople and reiterated that he merely spoke to his chief of staff and thought the matter should be brought to the attention of the head of the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

He said if the Public Sector Commission or the Corruption and Crime Commission wanted to conduct an inquiry, it would be independent and he was not currently aware that such an inquiry was happening.

The premier agreed Mr Nalder needed to regain the trust of his colleagues and concentrate on his portfolios, but said he did not mind the fact that people had aspirations in politics.

Mr Barnett said he hoped when his run came to an end there would be strong competition for the leadership.

But Labor says the decision to keep Mr Nalder away shows a lack of respect for regional people confronting serious issues in the transport and agriculture portfolios.

"The Liberal-National government's leadership chaos has become a complete joke and is preventing them from governing effectively," opposition transport spokeswoman Rita Saffioti said.

Opposition agriculture spokesman Mick Murray said the premier seemed more interested in trying to avoid further embarrassment and backstabbing from Mr Nalder rather than dealing with agricultural issues such as the long-delayed review into the department.

"The minister is locked up in Perth instead of engaging with farmers out in the Wheatbelt who are crying out for some engagement and leadership at this critical time for the industry," he said.

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