New South Wales Premier Mike Baird used his first days in the top job to make several changes to the Cabinet in what could be seen as a move to distance himself from former premier Barry O’Farrell and strengthen his team ahead of next year’s state election.
With Mr O’Farrell stepping down following claims he had no recollection of a $3000 bottle of wine received from Australian Water Holdings chief executive Nick Di Girolamo, it was important that the new Premier created some breathing space between himself, the former premier and Mr Di Girolamo.
However, as Premier Baird’s recent interview with Sarah Ferguson on ABC’s 7.30 pointed out, creating such distance may prove difficult.
The Premier has relinquished his role as Treasurer, while former Attorney-General Greg Smith, Robyn Parker, George Souris and Don Page have all been dumped from their respective positions.
Mr Page has since used the reshuffle to announce his retirement from politics at next year’s election. The former Minister for Local Government has served as the Member for Ballina for more than a quarter of a century.
These vacancies have paved the way for five MPs to join the new-look Cabinet – three Liberals and two Nationals.
The three Liberal additions to Cabinet are:
Pittwater MP Rob Stokes is now Minister for the Environment, Minister for Heritage and Assistant Minister for Planning.
Wollondilly MP Jai Rowell is now Minister for Mental Health and Assistant Minister for Health.
Castle Hill MP Dominic Perrottet, is now Minister for Finance and Services.
Bathurst MP Paul Toole has assumed the role as Minister for Local Government
Dubbo MP Troy Grant has taken on Minister for Hospitality, Gaming and Racing and Minister for the Arts.
Along with these additions are some significant elevations. Promotions of note include Andrew Constance, Brad Hazzard and Pru Goward.
Mr Constance, the Bega MP and former Minister for Ageing and Minister for Disability Services, has been promoted to Treasurer.
Brad Hazzard, a former UNSW Law student, has replaced Greg Smith as Attorney General. Mr Hazzard will likely be looking to differentiate himself from his predecessor who came under fire from some quarters for not replicating Queensland’s controversial anti-motorcycle gang legislation.
Member for Goulburn and former Minister for Family and Community Services Pru Goward will now take on the role as Minister for Planning. Ms Goward faced pressure last year following findings Family and Community Services regional directors did not fill vacancies due to budgetary pressures despite assurances from the minister casework numbers had not changed. The promotion will give her an opportunity to move on from that issue and refresh planning in NSW.
Looking a little closer to campus, the changes have been well received by Young Liberals at UNSW.
Natarsha Terreiro, Secretary of the Freedom Club at UNSW, told Tharunka: “There is no doubt that Premier Mike Baird has put together a strong and talented team which will continue to deliver for NSW.”
However Sam Bason from the Whitlam Club is quite sceptical of the cabinet changes. He told Tharunka, “Swapping North Shore Premiers won’t freshen perspectives. Without Labor style party reform and donation changes the Coalition has lost all credibility.”
In relation to the connection some UNSW students will have to the Baird Government and its upcoming campaign, Ms Terreiro said: “Freedom Club members will be out in force across NSW over the next 11 months, campaigning to ensure the re-election of the Baird Government.”
The changes made to Cabinet attempt to demonstrate party unity at a time when chaos could have easily ensued – as has been the case with other governments at state and federal levels
Given the recent history of governments in New South Wales – since Bob Carr left office premiers in the state have averaged just over 20 months in office – there does appear to be a unified front keen on learning from the problems associated with transitions of leadership.
With next year’s election in mind, changes to Cabinet demonstrate a clear attempt to convey a united front and soften any potential attacks it may face in the short- to medium-term.