WHY I WALKED OUT: Wide Bay MP Llew O'Brien has opened up on his decision to quit the Nationals. Picture: Patrick Woods
WHY I WALKED OUT: Wide Bay MP Llew O'Brien has opened up on his decision to quit the Nationals. Picture: Patrick Woods

Why I walked out: Llew O’Brien spills on Nats split

EXCLUSIVE:

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

Just another dusty rider pulled in at the service station, he told people he was a public servant when they asked.

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 on March 13.

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

AWKWARD: Member for Wide Bay Llew O'Brien (left) and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack forced a united front at the official opining of Sunshine Beach Surf Lifesaving Club on Friday. Photo: Caitlin Zerafa
AWKWARD: Member for Wide Bay Llew O'Brien (left) and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack forced a united front at the official opining of Sunshine Beach Surf Lifesaving Club on Friday. Photo: Caitlin Zerafa

That, coupled with other policy issues and the realisation his most significant acts in parliament had been at-odds 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.

That was at the forefront of his mind when he called for a spill of the National Party leadership earlier this week, the first Nationals spill in 30 years, he estimated.

"It's 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.

Deputy Speaker Llew O'Brien is seen in the speaker's chair after House of Representatives Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, February 11, 2020. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
Deputy Speaker Llew O'Brien is seen in the speaker's chair after House of Representatives Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, February 11, 2020. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

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 party-room 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."

He said his mind went back to his emergency services days, everything went into slow motion, and he decided to enter the chamber and own his decision, accepting the nomination.

"In doing so 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.

"It gave me a real heavy heart. It wasn't fun. I wasn't happy."

Greens leader Adam Bandt (left) and former Nationals member for Wide Bay Llew O'Brien during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
Greens leader Adam Bandt (left) and former Nationals member for Wide Bay Llew O'Brien during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

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.

It was more than a personal cost.

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 supported the Prime Minister "100 per cent" and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, and he was entirely focused on his dual roles, representing Wide Bay and acting as Deputy Speaker.

And the small issue of trying to establish a federal anti-corruption body.

"I suspect it's going to challenge me greatly," he said.

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."


Australia's best news deal: Get the big stories first here

premium_icon Australia's best news deal: Get the big stories first here

Get stories that really matter to this community before anyone else

River hits peak as town prepares for mozzies

River hits peak as town prepares for mozzies

Houses in St George have escaped inundation after the Balonne River peaked at...

Man fights for life as brother charged for 'head kick'

premium_icon Man fights for life as brother charged for 'head kick'

A Nanango man has been charged with grievous bodily harm against his brother.