NSW National Party MP Ben Franklin has been threatened with a referral to the state’s corruption watchdog from his own party if he accepts a nomination for upper house president after being tapped for the role by his close friend, Premier Chris Minns.
Chairman of the NSW National Party Andrew Fraser said he would refer the nomination to the Independent Commission Against Corruption on the grounds it could be considered partial conduct to the government and Franklin.
Fraser fired off the ultimatum after a Nationals party room meeting on Thursday voted unanimously that it would not support a candidate for the plum position which Franklin is considering after being approached by Labor.
“The party has given him his career, so to kick sand in the face of the party is not good,” Fraser said. “It’s a matter for the party room, which has made its decision. But if Ben was to accept the position, I would refer it to ICAC.”
Franklin would also be forced to leave the National Party if he persists with his ambitions for the role, which attracts privileges equivalent to a minister.
“The only way he could do it, is if he resigns from the party and does a Mason-Cox,” Fraser said, in a reference to rebel former Liberal MP Matthew Mason-Cox, who defied then-premier Gladys Berejiklian in nominating for the same position in 2021.
Franklin has not responded to a request for comment but party sources say he is still considering his options after making his case during Thursday’s party room meeting.
Nationals MPs were livid on Wednesday as it emerged that Franklin, the godfather to one of Minns’s sons, was considering defying party leadership by accepting the role following an approach by the Labor premier to nominate.
One Nationals MP said Franklin would be committing an act of “treachery” if he accepted the job because it would give Labor an effective progressive majority in the evenly balanced upper house.
National Party leader Paul Toole on Thursday said the party room was limited in the actions it could take against a member, but insisted there would be ramifications for any member who defied a motion.
“Particularly a motion like this, which could impact on the position holding the government to account,” he said.
Asked if he would support a referral to ICAC, Toole said that would be “on the cards for consideration,” adding that the matter would be referred to the central executive who would likely take further action.
Any potential ICAC referral would be made on the basis that the nomination was partial to the government because they would gain an advantage on the floor of the upper house, and to Franklin, because of the additional salary and privileges he would secure by accepting.
Labor has dismissed the threat, with deputy premier Prue Car saying the ICAC was “not there to monitor squabbles within the National Party”.
“This seems to be the National Party really having a hissy fit because Paul Toole doesn’t have control of his own party room,” she said. “It’s up to Ben Franklin as to whether he nominates for this position. Clearly, this is a pretty vexatious complaint.”
Car said the government had “made very clear” that it would accept nominations from non-government MPs other than One Nation leader Mark Latham “to ensure we can actually get legislation through both houses of parliament because the reality is we’re in a minority government”.
Minns on Wednesday denied some Nationals’ suggestions that his personal friendship with Franklin constituted a case of “jobs for the boys”, pointing out Labor had previously supported Mason-Cox for upper house president in the last term of parliament, and independent Greg Piper for lower house speaker.
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