Following last week’s shock resignation of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian pending an ICAC investigation, the NSW Liberal Party has elected Dominic Perottet as their new leader and, therefore, premier of NSW.
Perottet beat out the Planning Minister Rob Stokes in a party ballot of 39 votes to 5.
Perrotett said it was an “honour and absolute privilege” to be elected.
“I really appreciate the trust my colleagues have put in me today,” he said.
It’s a tumultuous time in NSW state politics, with the surprise resignation of Deputy Premier John Barillaro on Monday, just days after the resignation of the Premier.
This all comes as NSW is set to embark on its COVID re-opening strategy, with restrictions easing from next week. The economy is in turmoil and COVID cases are expected to rise as the state opens up, meaning the job of the state leader will be a tougher one than at almost any other time in history.
The Federal Government is gearing up to fight a general election next year and, with a slim majority in the Legislative Assembly, Perrottet will need to demonstrate strong leadership if he is to secure Liberal Party support in the state.
The NSW state election is not for another 18 months, but politicians are always looking ahead and in NSW, they will be keen to steady the ship.
So, who exactly is Dominic Perrottet? How will NSW change under his leadership? And what’s all this black humour about Gilead and the Handmaid’s Tale? Here’s what you need to know.
It’s Pronounced ‘Perro-tay’
“The most conservative Premier NSW has seen since World War II”.
That was the description given of Perrottet by a journalist at his inaugural press conference on Tuesday.
Perottet laughed off the assumption and said it was “for other people to judge,” pressing the point that he would be a Premier for all peoples right across the state.
The question speaks to the discomfort that many find themselves in, being led by a right-wing conservative man with a questionable history of cultural values.
Perrottet has been both the NSW Treasurer and Deputy Leader of the Liberals under Gladys Berejiklian since 2017. At the age of just 39, he is the youngest premier the state has ever seen.
Economics is his game, having studied the discipline along with law at The University of Sydney. This is kind of how he made a name for himself, entering politics through the ‘career politician’ pathway of the Young Liberals, the group he was president of during his time as a student.
Under the guidance of the ultra-conservative Liberal party heavyweight David Clarke, Perrottet was elected to state parliament as the member for Castle Hill in 2011 as the Coalition first took power. He quickly rose through the ranks, serving as Minister for Finance, Services and Property, then for Industrial Relations, before becoming Deputy Leader just six years later. His rapid rise in politics demonstrates that he’s a sharp operator with serious political ambition.
Perrottet has been described as both as “conservative warrior” and the “great hope in Australia of political conservative.” He has long been a fan of right-wing Liberal and former PM John Howard and Howard himself described him as “the best person” to lead NSW at this time.
“He is very bright with the right amount of experience and a commitment to economic reform,” Howard said.
The Australian Financial Review’s senior correspondent Aaron Patrick has said that Perrottet could lead a resurgence of proud hardline conservatism in mainstream Australian politics.
“The really interesting thing about Dominic Perrotett is he’s a conservative, and he’s a proud conservative,” Patrick told Sky News host Sharri Markson.
“This is a man who believes in family, believes in traditional values, and believes in small government.
It’s no secret that Perrottet comes from the conservative right of the Liberal Party and it’s impossible to understand the man without reference to his deeply-held Catholic views — more on this later.
One thing to note is that Perrottet will have had to have done a lot of power-sharing deals with the majority moderate faction of the NSW liberals. This could start him off on something of an uphill climb as he works to negotiate the various interests of the party.
The Perotett Family
Born in 1982 in Sydney’s upper-class North-Western Pennant Hills district, Perrottet’s father is a career World Bank employee. He is one of 12 children from a family of religious Catholics.
He attended Redfield College and Oakhill College, both strongly Roman Catholic private schools and is married to Helen Perrottet, a woman he met at university.
Helen is relatively private, with little information about her online. She has worked for the Australian Defence Force as a Public Relations Officer and as an Australian Federal Police Officer as well as a Federal Court Judge. She now works in employment law and is apparently a skilled dancer.
The pair have six children together, five daughters and a son and family appears to be a strong focus of Dominic’s, both his own and the concept in political policy.
“I believe that the family is the cornerstone, the nucleus, of our society. As John Paul II said: As the family goes, so goes the nation and the whole world in which we live,” Perrottet has said.
A lot of emphasis is placed upon Perrottet’s religious views. It was something he was forced to defend during his press conference, saying that he is a “proud Christian” and claiming that religion shouldn’t be a barrier to political leadership, something of a co-opting of equality discourse often used in support of people very much unlike Perrottet.
He is frequently linked to the religious order Opus Dei. His mentor Clarke is one of just a handful of order members in Australia and Redfield College was run by an Opus Dei chaplain.
The order has just a few hundred members in Australia, although not a lot is known about their precise figures. The group came to the country in 1963 and was founded by Spanish Priest Josemaria Escrivita. Pope John Paul II thought groups such as Opus Dei could be useful in re-secularising the West.
They were depicted pretty poorly in Dan Brown’s blockbuster The Da Vinci Code. The villainous albino monk Silas is an Opus Dei member and memorably wore a metal chain around his leg with sharp spikes facing inwards to ‘mortify’ himself and remind him of the pain suffered by Christ.
Opus Dei is highly secretive and apparently dedicated to a simple self-denying lifestyle with few political aims however there are suggestions that they actively seek to recruit high-ranking political figures. Honi Soit has referred to the group as a “cult.”
Although Perrottet has denied being a part of the organisation, he can’t seem to shake the characterisation of a religious zealot.
Economic reform is a phrase that keeps cropping up when discussing Perrottet. What this means is a conservative reform of the economy.
Perrottet is properly neo-liberal in the economic sense. This ideology believes that government is the worst way to organise public life and that the free-market is far more efficient in delivering the things that people need. At the extreme end, it basically argues for a complete dissolution of government, except in areas of law enforcement, where all services will be run for profit.
This worldview is broadly in alignment with much of the US Republican Party doctrine who support low taxes so that businesses and individuals can pursue their own pathways to profit. It would also mean a diminishment of public services and social security nets and almost always leads to a consolidation of wealth at the very top of society.
When Perrottet says he supports “fiscal conservatism,” this is what he means.
He has experience in running economic experiments along these lines. icare, the state-run health insurance company designed to provide workplace injury compensation, was headed by Perrottet and outsourced much of its operations to private contractors. The company was later revealed to have underpaid up to 52,000 workers by $80 million. Contracts were found to have been awarded without competitive tender and the whole operation nearly collapsed due to opaque mismanagement.
On welfare, Perrottet has been deeply critical, linking “declining birth rates” and rising rates of infertility to overspending on welfare payments.
“In essence, the welfare state was acting as a substitute for the family, crowding out its formation, and increasing rates of divorce,” Perrottet has said, claming that his own family of 11 siblings is a benefit to the nation through providing 12 future taxpayers. This emphasis on the need to protect the traditional concept of the nuclear family is a recurring theme in his approach.
This being said, Perrotett was one of the strongest critics from within government of the removal of the JobKeeper and was one of the architects of the JobSaver programme.
During the pandemic, he strongly opposed the extension of lockdown in July in NSW and there is some suggestion that he wants to speed up the reopening of the state as he takes power, although he did say during his press conference that stability and staying the course set by Berejiklian would be important in the coming months.
Perrotett has also been forced to confront some problematic statements he’s made in the past. He opposed the decriminalisation of abortion in NSW in 2019, saying that supporters of the law were “on the wrong side of history.”
Perrottet told the Daily Telegraph he could not support a law that, he said, would stop “the beating heart of an unborn child”.
“While late-term abortions may be rare, that doesn’t necessarily make them right,” he said, while acknowledging that every day women fall pregnant in very difficult circumstanced.
“Our first response as a community should be to help, not to harm, and to comfort, value and support both mother and child,” Perrotett said.
As Perrottet’s name surfaced as the likely successor to Berejiklian, so too did a Facebook post he had made in 2016, calling the election of Donald Trump a “a victory for people who have been taken for granted by the elites”.
“If you support stronger borders, you are not a racist,” he wrote. “If you want a plebiscite on same-sex marriage, you are not a homophobe.”
However, Perrottet has backtracked on this stance, saying instead that he meant to highlight the fact that certain communities would be shifting their allegiances away from the Liberal Party and toward further right-wing parties if they weren’t careful.
One the biggest issue facing the planet right now — no, not that one, the other one — Perrottet has been less than encouraging. He has described what he sees as the “almost religious devotion of the political left to climate change,” as an example of “gratuitous waste and stated that while he believes in “the science of climate change,” that action should “not demonise coal“.
During his press conference, Perrottet mentioned electric vehicles and climate change in response to a question, saying that he believes NSW is both nationally and internationally leading with it’s commitment to a 50 percent reduction in emissions by 2030.
“People should judge people on who they are and what they say,” Perrottet said in his press conference, “not on what they believe”. We know a lot about what Perrottet believes and much about what he has previously done and said. Whether NSW or the country at large will judge his actions to come favourably in light of this understanding remains to be seen.