Gladys Berejiklian has been elected as leader of the Liberal Party and will be sworn in as the 45th Premier of New South Wales later today. She was elected unopposed by the party room with Dominic Perrottet elected Deputy Leader.
Berejiklian is a formidable operator with a keen eye for detail who built her political profile and reputation for her hard work in the Transport portfolio after the O’Farrell Government won office in 2011. Known for “getting the trains running on time”, Berejiklian signed off on a number of the Government’s top infrastructure and transport projects including the North West Rail Link, extension of the Sydney light rail, and the privatisation of the Sydney ferry network.
Her ability to neutralise the Transport portfolio for the Government saw her standing increase within the party room and she was rewarded with the Deputy Leadership in 2014. Following the 2015 State Election, then-Premier Mike Baird appointed Berejiklian Treasurer. In this role, she developed a close working relationship with her now Deputy, and member of the Liberal right, Perrottet as members of the Expenditure Review Committee.
Despite her 14 years in the Parliament representing the Sydney north shore electorate of Willoughby, Berejiklian remains a private person with little information available on who she is and what she stands for. A member of the moderate faction, Berejiklian is considered an economic conservative and social progressive who supports same sex marriage and an Australian Republic.
Berejiklian was born in Sydney to Armenian parents. She joined the Liberal Party as a student in 1993 and rose through the organisational ranks to become President of the New South Wales Liberal Party in 1996. Berejiklian earned her stripes as a political advisor to both New South Wales and Federal politicians before moving to the private sector, joining the Commonwealth Bank in 1998 as a senior executive.
Next steps for the Premier?
Berejiklian has the opportunity to remake the Government in her own name and style however she will inherit a number of the Government’s problems and an increasingly volatile junior partner in The Nationals, who are still reeling from the Greyhound debacle and who are keen to make their voices heard.
The priorities of her predecessors including council amalgamations, and to a lesser extent lock out laws, are the albatross around her neck and will place an early test on her leadership, policy nous, and ability to engage the electorate. She is unlikely to wander too far on policy – education will be a focus – however there will be subtle changes on priority areas including local infrastructure and housing affordability.
Berejiklian is expected to name her first ministry this week with few knowing the likely extent of a possible reshuffle. With a number of ministers nearing the end of their political careers, generational change would be tempting but demotions may result in undesired bi-elections that may shorten her honeymoon period.
An expert at managing the NSW Liberal party behind closed doors, the challenge for the new Premier is how good she is managing the State with the door wide open.
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