Monday, October 4, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

The worst possible timing?
NSW looks for new leaders at a critical point in the transition from lockdown

Composite image of Gladys Berejiklian (via ABC News) and John Barilaro (via ABC News)

Gladys Berejiklian (via ABC News) and John Barilaro (via ABC News)

The NSW Liberals and Nationals will both be changing leaders at a critical juncture in the state’s reopening, after Deputy Premier John Barilaro announced his surprise resignation just three days after Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced hers. This leaves the state government in apparent disarray, with both parties focused on internal machinations rather than on NSW’s big step out of lockdown, set for the end of the week, when the state will have reached 70 per cent of adults (aged 16 and over) fully vaccinated. The Nationals may have things wrapped up soon, with Water Minister Melinda Pavey having already announced her candidacy for Wednesday’s partyroom vote. Treasurer Dominic Perrottet appeared to have stitched up the Liberal leadership over the weekend, although rival Rob Stokes confirmed today that he would still be running in tomorrow’s ballot. The decision sets the stage for a third “costly and distracting” byelection (with more to come?), after Transport Minister Andrew Constance yesterday announced his intention to quit state politics and run federally. (On a related note, Guardian Australia is reporting that senior Liberals have already approached Berejiklian to run in Tony Abbott’s old seat of Warringah.) In announcing his departure, Barilaro (who promised not to run for federal politics) emphasised timing. “It’s time for me to go,” he said in a presser, noting that he had been considering the move for a while, and decided it was best to time it around the premier’s departure. But if ICAC’s announcement and Berejiklian’s departure came at the worst possible time for the state, as many conservatives claimed over the weekend, how could this possibly be the “right time” for Barilaro – self-described “architect of the roadmap out of lockdown” – to pack it in too? 

Liberals, Nationals and furious commentators have been slamming the “irresponsible” scheduling of ICAC’s announcement, claiming that this was the worst time for the state to lose its leader – as if ICAC was supposed to factor political convenience into its investigations into corruption. Berejiklian herself took a swipe at the anti-corruption commission’s timing in Friday’s remarks, saying her resignation “could not occur at a worse time” (something she should perhaps have considered when she hung on to her position despite swirling allegations, or when she gambled on not locking down sooner, thus prolonging her state’s outbreak).

It is, of course, terrible timing to be changing leaders, ahead of what is expected to be a very bumpy period, although that’s not ICAC’s fault, as Centre For Public Integrity director Geoffrey Watson SC told RN Breakfast this morning. “Of course it can’t wait,” he said, backing recent comments by constitutional law expert Anne Twomey. “You can’t turn a blind eye to matters of corruption, probity or maladministration … because there’s some other pressing demand.” But despite the Coalition’s attacks on ICAC (which only got wackier with the appearance of Barnaby Joyce on Sunrise this morning), apparently it’s just fine timing for ministers and deputy premiers to be stepping down of their own volition, forcing an even more comprehensive change of leadership during the state’s crucial transition phase.

Timing is everything when it comes to the pandemic, and will be especially pivotal in the transition out of lockdown. Stokes has promised not to change anything about the roadmap on the off-chance he wins tomorrow, but the more right-wing Perrottet hasn’t ruled out making tweaks – tweaks that would likely centre around more aggressive changes at the 80 per cent vaccinated mark. This wouldn’t sit well with aged care, disability and Indigenous advocates, with growing concerns about the vulnerable populations who have been left behind in the vaccine rollout: as Rick Morton reported in The Saturday Paper over the weekend, the 20 per cent who will not be fully vaccinated at that point are not anti-vaxxers, but rather the most vulnerable.

Timing is also everything when it comes to elections, whether byelections or otherwise. The date of the now three NSW byelections will be based around when Berejiklian, Barilaro and Constance each officially stand down, with suggestions they could be held on the same day as the delayed council elections on December 4. Some have suggested the byelection in Constance’s seat of Bega could be an “early electoral test” for the new premier, with a result far from certain. The NSW chaos may also have implications for the still-unknown date of the federal election, especially if Morrison finds himself weakened by the abrupt departure of his “gold standard” premier and the potentially bruising ICAC hearings to come. It’s likely the PM will want to give the people of NSW a chance to air any grievances against the state Coalition before going to the polls himself – even if a November election would have helped him avoid attending the Glasgow climate summit. One thing remains certain: the federal election will be held on whatever date the PM considers to be the best possible timing for him.

“The message is clear for those who try to cheat the system – your secrets are no longer safe, and you can expect to feel serious consequences for your actions.”

Will Day, the Australian Taxation Office deputy commissioner and chief of its Serious Financial Crime Taskforce, says the ATO will analyse the trove of documents known as the Pandora Papers to identify any possible Australian links.

“It remains the case that all visa applicants, including partner and family stream visa applicants from Afghanistan, must meet the requirements in the migration legislation before a visa can be granted.”

A Home Affairs spokesperson confirms that Afghans seeking Australian visas still need to meet health check requirements, despite the nation’s security crisis, leaving thousands seeking partner visas in limbo.

Why Gladys Berejiklian resigned
On Friday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian suddenly resigned. Her shocking departure from the top job has left the state in political turmoil in the midst of a pandemic. It’s also raised important questions about political accountability and transparency.

The percentage of jobs lost during the 2021 lockdowns, from May to August, that belonged to casual workers.

“Reports and advice to the federal government from big four accounting firms worth $1.1 billion annually would be released publicly under a proposal to boost scrutiny of Coalition outsourcing.”


An Australia Institute proposal calls for the requirement of outsourced work to be tabled in the Senate, amid concerns over the billions of dollars being handed to consultants.

The list

“Whole days in lockdown fail to register on my memory. What did I do? What used up the time? Oldness seems to be creeping up on me, in longer than usual steps. It takes me all day to finish the quick crossword. I have to walk around the house for five hours till the word ‘tabernacle’ floats up from the murk.”

“Phil ‘Gus’ Gould – a personal confidant to V’landys – captained the Penrith Panthers at the age of 20, coached the Bulldogs to a premiership at the age of 30, and the Panthers to their first premiership at the age of 33. He remembers seeing fans in Panthers jerseys wandering around the streets of western Sydney like zombies during preseason. ‘They’re lost, because the football’s not on,’ Gould tells me. ‘It holds their families together. People don’t understand that … Their life begins in the second week of March, and it ends in October.’”

“People who understand the international politics of climate change, on both sides of the Pacific, were left flummoxed as to why [Nancy Pelosi] would convey the impression that the US administration is appreciative of Australia’s efforts at combating climate change. It is decidedly not – and could well be even less so in the near future – the former Capitol Hill source says.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Composite image of NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and Prime Minister Scott Morrison (images via ABC News)

Border farce

So much for the national plan

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Fear and showboating

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The little guys

A vocal minority that has for so long controlled the climate debate is now painting itself as marginalised

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A tale of two commissions

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From the front page

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Border farce

So much for the national plan

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A bloody shame: Paid period leave should be law

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Image of Gladys Berejiklian appearing before an ICAC hearing in October 2020. Image via ABC News

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What explains the hero-worship of the former NSW premier?

Cover image of ‘Bodies of Light’

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The Australian author’s latest novel, dissecting trauma, fails to realise its epic ambitions