Residents of this region are quite used to the ‘winds of October’ which signal the transition from spring conditions to those of the summer months.
The early October winds in 2021, however, may also be regarded as the ‘Winds of Change’ for NSW political life.
A great many NSW residents have been caught by surprise by the heavy gusts which have swept through Macquarie Street since Friday and upended the familiar, more or less orderly and apparently enduring political arrangements of the Coalition government.
The shock resignation on Friday by reigning Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, in the face of the moral ‘no choice’ alternative in the decision by the ICAC to pursue formal inquiries into allegations of improper behaviour by her relating to the allocation of government funding to two regional projects favoured by a Liberal member with whom she reportedly had a long-term relationship, not only stunned her party and large numbers of ordinary citizens but set in motion a subsequent cascade of changes in the Coalition which are still in play.
The creation of a sudden vacancy for the Premier’s chair led to an immediate bout of jockeying and head-counting at the senior leadership level of the NSW Liberal Party although the strong likelihood was that Treasurer Dominic Perrottet can comfortably reflect the widespread view he was the heir apparent to Ms Berejiklian.
Another possible contender for the top job, Andrew Constance, the current Transport Minister and popular Member for Bega who last year indicated he was in favour of moving to the federal sphere, added to the weekend turmoil to announce he would also leave state politics and seek a Canberra berth via the seat of Gilmore.
Then, on Monday, the NSW electors were given a new chapter of political drama when the NSW Deputy Premier and leader of the Nationals, John Barilaro, announced that he too was quitting. Mr Barilaro gave the press conference a number of reasons for his decision and its timing. He said he had been considering the question of standing down for some time but had been galvanised into acting by the resignation of Ms Berejiklian.
He said he did not want to carry on as deputy premier under a newly-elected premier only to submit his resignation ‘a week later’.
Mr Barilaro said he had served as the Nationals’ leader and Deputy Premier since 2016. He said he had been proud to serve the people of NSW during his decade in the NSW Parliament and listed a number of policy achievements and regional developments of which he had overseen as Minister for Regional NSW, Industry and Trade.
Mr Barilaro also spoke of the heavy demands of political life in recent years; the extreme drought, the bushfires and their aftermath, the mouse plague, and the deep problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.
He also alluded to the psychological toll his role had taken during the controversial ‘Koala protection issue’ which dogged the coalition last year and led him to take months of stress leave.
He also was scathing about the effect that an online social media campaign mounted by an individual against him had had on himself and his family. That matter is continuing in a defamation case mounted by Mr Barilaro.
Mr Barilaro said he had decided to leave political life altogether and not pursue an earlier option to seek a seat in the Federal Parliament.
As to his replacement as leader of the Nationals in NSW Mr Barilaro said his party had many experienced people capable of taking on the task.
The leadership upheaval in the NSW government has been food and drink for political journalists and commentators and will continue to be so for some time.
The political opponents of the government are already marshalling their resources and dusting down policies in preparation for the months ahead.
However, despite the turmoil of recent days it is likely that the new government, led by a new premier and a rejigged team will be well positioned to defend the ramparts.
The COVID crisis in NSW is showing signs of winding down and the incidence of lockdowns may also be destined to dwindle.
The Berejiklian legacy contains a handy roadmap for the future and the new ministry seems set to follow it
A state returning to work and school, rebuilding and recovering, and planning for the year ahead is probably keen to get on with the tasks in hand and less interested in political argy-bargy for some time to come.
It may well be that Mr Perrottet will find the job of governing a little easier than would have been the case if the wind of change had swept through Macquarie Street a few months ago.
It is also clear that residents of NSW will be looking for leadership offering sensitive and appropriate policy offerings as the state moves into the summer months – and beyond.To order photos from this page click here