BOB LAWRENCE, GOVERNMENT RELATIONS
Following the resignation of NSW Premier, Mike Baird, and the election of Gladys Berejiklian to replace him, there has been substantial renewal in the NSW Cabinet, with new portfolios established and an additional Ministerial position created.
The reshuffle has seen older Ministers Jillian Skinner, Duncan Gay and Adrian Piccoli replaced and younger members of the talented back-bench pool promoted. All the retiring Ministers have managed large budgets over the past six years as they upgraded hospitals, roads and infrastructure and schools in a fair spending balance between cities and regional areas that was previously missing.
The new Premier has outlined major issues as being local infrastructure, housing affordability and a strong economy along with addressing public concerns about local government mergers. The relevant portfolios all have new Ministers.
Three additional women have entered Cabinet (and one has departed) bringing the total to six in the 23 strong Cabinet. Tanya Davies is the Minister for Mental Health, Women and Ageing and Sarah Mitchell is the Minister for Early Childhood Education and Aboriginal Affairs. The Nationals have kept control of Roads, Maritime and Freight under Melinda Pavey but she will be hard-pressed to match Duncan Gay’s six year record in road development.
New portfolios for Counter-terrorism, Special Minister of State and WestConnex have been created, going respectively to David Elliott (who retains Corrections and Veterans Affairs), Anthony Roberts (who also takes Planning and will need to take leadership on the affordable housing issue) and Stuart Ayres who is also Minister for Western Sydney and Minister for Sport. Westconnex is one of the largest road projects in recent history. Its aim is to reduce the time taken to move people and goods in western Sydney. However there are added costs to the community and the project is facing local residential protests.
Deputy Premier and Nationals Leader John Barilaro will be Minister for Regional New South Wales, Minister for Skills, and Minister for Small Business. As the operator of a Monaro region small business he has valuable personal experience to call on for this portfolio.
New Deputy Liberal leader Dominic Perrottet, aged 33, exercised his right to choose his portfolio and is the new Treasurer. Mr Perrottet has been an intellectual leader of the right wing of the NSW Liberal Party, so his promotion may lead older factional members to consider retirement.
The highly experienced Brad Hazzard has been appointed Health Minister and Mark Speakman SC Attorney-General, replacing Gabrielle Upton, who has moved to Environment and the contentious Local Government portfolio where she will deal with the amalgamation issues.
The expanded Ministry has balanced Liberal and Nationals, Upper House and Lower House along with city and country. The new Premier should have little trouble exercising her authority. In her previous post as Treasurer she had financial oversight of Budget allocations and consequently will have searched the dark corners of each portfolio’s financial allocation.
The first challenge for the new Government will be three by-elections in the seats of two retiring Liberals, Baird (Manly) and Skinner (North Shore), plus the Labor-held marginal seat of Gosford where the member, Kathy Smith, has retired for health reasons. Pre-selecting candidates always brings out factionalism in political parties. Also Governments do not generally do well in by-elections.
The most interesting battle will be Gosford which was won by Labor in 2015 on Green preferences. In North Sydney and Manly, the Government is expected to lose votes but its candidates should top the first preference poll. As the Greens came second in both electorates in 2015, the candidate who comes second behind a Liberal candidate who fails to gain the required 50%-plus-one-vote in the by-election may well be the next member.