Pollies almost come to blows over old tweet
A NO-NONSENSE Queensland federal MP and NSW's firebrand Deputy Premier were separated after it was feared an expletive-peppered exchange could turn physical at a public event at the Gold Coast.
In an extraordinary scene, guests at Sunday's Metcash Expo stepped in after Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Wide Bay MP Llew O'Brien launched a tit-for-tat slanging match over a tweet Mr O'Brien posted in 2017.
It got so heated, it is understood the small group around the pair expected fisticuffs when Mr Barilaro was overheard telling Mr O'Brien "any time". Those present said Mr O'Brien responded with words to the effect of "No time like the present".
Neither denied the incident yesterday.
It sparked nervous guests to step in and a woman in her 50s broke the tension by encouraging Mr O'Brien to walk away, which he did. There's no allegation of any wrongdoing by Mr O'Brien or Mr Barillaro.
Mr Barilaro and Mr O'Brien are both Nationals, but do not know each other very well.
However, it appears Mr Barilaro is still stewing over a tweet Mr O'Brien tweeted in December 2017: "@JohnBarilaroMP seems like a good bloke, and everyone is entitled to an opinion. Mine is that John should focus on his role as vice-captain of reserve grade and let the big boys and girls take care of federal matters."
It was in response to an interview Mr Barilaro did with shock jock Alan Jones on 2GB that morning.
"Prime Minister is the problem," Mr Barilaro said, reflecting on the state LNP's election loss in Queensland in November 25, 2017.
"He should step down, allow for a clean-out of what the leadership looks like federally. The best thing that can happen right now, we don't want to see the stabbing in the back, but that's exactly what we're going to see in the months ahead if something doesn't happen."
At the time, Mr Barilaro copped it from federal MPs, especially Nationals, who were campaigning for Mr Joyce the next day at his by-election in New England.
Privately, they were angry about the distraction.
On Sunday, witnesses said both men shook hands when they saw each other.
However, those present said that Mr Barilaro quickly made a comment about being "right".
Mr O'Brien tried to defuse the situation, but when Mr Barilaro made another comment, name-calling started.
At one point, the men were just 60cm apart.
In a statement, Mr O'Brien told The Courier-Mail that instead of dedicating space to political gossip, it could "cover his fight for better road safety, tackling the stigma of mental illness or putting a blowtorch on the Queensland Government over its refusal to take money from the Morrison Government to build more dams".
A spokesman for Mr Barilaro in a statement said, "There was a lively exchange over politics during private conversation.
"The Deputy Premier has nothing further to add."