With Dominic Perrottet confirmed as Gladys Berejiklian’s successor, editor-in-chief Peter Hackney examines the political career of the man who will become the 46th Premier of NSW.
Since entering the NSW Parliament a decade ago, Dominic Perrottet has consistently been described as ‘ambitious’. That ambition reached its apogee this morning, when the NSW Treasurer and Member for Epping was confirmed as the state’s next Premier, following Friday’s resignation of Gladys Berejiklian.
A 10am party room meeting of the NSW Liberals saw Perrottet fend off a challenge from Planning Minister Rob Stokes, with Perrottet victorious 39–5 votes.
Stokes’ leadership tilt was little more than a formality, after Perrottet stitched up a deal over the weekend, which sees him become Premier, Minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres become Deputy Liberal Leader and Environment Minister Matt Kean the state’s new Treasurer.
So who is the 39-year-old lawyer set to be sworn in as the 46th Premier of NSW?
A former president of the NSW Young Liberals, Perrottet entered parliament at the 2011 state election – after he won Liberal preselection for the very safe Liberal seat of Castle Hill in November 2010, with the backing of right-wing powerbroker David Clarke.
He has since served in several high-profile ministries, having previously been Minister for Finance and Minister for Industrial Relations. Since January, 2017, he has been both NSW Treasurer and Deputy Leader of the NSW Liberal Party.
An avowed conservative, Perrottet’s voting record reflects as much. A Perrottet administration represents a lurch to the right for the NSW Government, with the MP a robust member of the NSW Liberals’ right-wing faction.
This breaks a long tradition of the NSW Liberal Party having a moderate faction member in the top job.
A devout Roman Catholic and ‘family man’, the father-of-six is widely believed to be a member of Opus Dei, a prelature of the Catholic Church which has drawn controversy for its secretive nature, sexual abuse cover-ups, recruitment methods and support for authoritarian, right-wing governments.
Despite claims that he is able to separate the interests of church and state, he voted in line with the position of the Catholic Church when he opposed the 2019 bill to remove abortion from the NSW criminal code. The bill was supported by many of his colleagues, including Berejiklian.
The next big litmus test for Perrottet in this regard will be the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill, expected to be introduced by Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich in mid-October.
The Catholic position on voluntary euthanasia is that it can never be safely legislated.
“Because terminally ill people are vulnerable to powerful feelings of fear, depression, loneliness, not wanting to be a burden, and even to coercion from family members, no law can adequately protect them from succumbing to euthanasia if it is available,” states a document on the matter published at catholic.org.au, the official website of the Catholic Church in Australia.
While it can be expected that Perrottet will not personally support the legislation, he has indicated he will allow a conscience vote.
In a November, 2016 Facebook post, Perrottet laid his political cards on the table when he declared support for Donald Trump, who had recently won the 2016 US presidential election.
“Some people seem surprised by Donald Trump’s success in the US election,” Perrottet wrote.
“But this result is a victory for people who have been taken for granted by the elites in the political establishment for too long.
“This is a silent majority, a forgotten people, who feel like the values they hold dear are no longer being represented by the political class.”
Perrottet went on to state, “If you question man-made climate change, you are not a bigot.
“If you want stronger borders, you are not a racist.
“If you want a plebiscite on same-sex marriage, you are not a homophobe.”
Posting an image of the Australian flag interlocked with the US stars and stripes, he declared: “It’s time for a conservative spring.”
Recalling the day Trump won the election, Member for Newtown Jenny Leong said Perrottet was elated.
“On the day Donald Trump won the election, NSW Parliament was sitting,” Leong wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
“At question time the NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet walked in with a massive smile on his face – and expressed elation at Trump’s victory. It was horrifying then, it is even more horrifying now.”
More recently, Perrottet has been widely criticised for his handling of the $38 billion NSW Government-run insurance scheme icare, which provides workplace injury insurance for the state’s 3.6 million workers.
Perrottet oversees the agency he established in 2015, which has lost more than $3 billion despite cutting benefits to thousands of injured workers.
Last year, a NSW parliamentary inquiry into the organisation was told the wife of former icare chief executive John Nagle was paid almost $800,000 over three years after being awarded a contract without a tender.
In December, two icare workers were allowed to resign instead of being fired over a recruitment scam which cost the organisation more than $150,000. The matter was reported to the police and the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
Despite stating “the buck stops with me” on icare, Perrottet has rejected repeated calls to to resign over the troubled organisation’s failures.
A member of the NSW Government’s Covid-19 crisis cabinet, Perrottet has not ruled out making changes to the Covid roadmap developed under Gladys Berejiklian’s leadership.
The state’s blueprint for living with the virus was announced last month, outlining which restrictions would ease when 70 per cent and 80 per cent of the population aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated.
Under the roadmap, fully vaccinated NSW residents will be able to do things like visit restaurants, pubs and gyms, and have visitors in their homes – although with various measures in place, including density limits and caps on numbers.
Asked over the weekend whether he will stick to the roadmap, Perrottet said: “I don’t want to pre-empt the situation we are in at the moment.
“I am completely focused, and have been as this time as Treasurer on keeping people safe, that we keep people in jobs, and we keep businesses open.
“More importantly for many families across the state, we get kids back to school as soon as possible.”
However, he has a history of dissent with Gladys Berejiklian and other colleagues over lockdowns; in July, Perrottet argued against extending lockdowns, claiming it was time to change the thinking on Covid and to learn to live with infections in the community.
The prospect of a new leader inheriting ‘a poisoned chalice’ is regularly invoked in politics when a leadership change takes place, particularly during challenging times.
It is difficult not to suspect Perrottet has acquired exactly that, with political instability and Covid ensuring him a rocky ride for the foreseeable future.
Not only must a Perrottet Government overcome the damage caused by the political earthquake of Berejiklian’s resignation; it must also deal with various aftershocks, including the resignation on Sunday of Transport Minister Andrew Constance, who is departing for a tilt at federal politics, triggering a by-election in the seat of Bega.
Yesterday, another aftershock rattled the Coalition, with the resignation of Deputy Premier and NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro, which will trigger a by-election in the electoral district of Monaro.
And the instability looks set to continue.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, a close ally of Berejiklian, is widely tipped to leave parliament once NSW has completed its road out of lockdown.
Former Community Services Minister Gareth Ward, the subject of sexual violence allegations, will be forced to resign if charges are laid over said allegations, leading to a by-election in the Kiama electorate.
And then there’s Covid.
NSW is expected to see 70 per cent of its population aged 16 and over fully vaccinated by Thursday, triggering a reopening of the state on Monday.
A further easing of restrictions will occur once NSW reaches the milestone of 80 per cent fully vaccinated, by the end of the month.
The reopening is expected to precipitate a rise in Covid-19 infections, a likelihood acknowledged by Hazzard on Sunday.
In her resignation speech last week, Gladys Berejiklian described the state’s reopening as “the most challenging weeks of the most challenging times in the history of NSW”.
How Perrottet navigates the challenges he has inherited will surely set the tone for his government – and how it is received by the people of NSW.
Peter Hackney is the editor-in-chief of the Sydney Sentinel.