ALEX MITCHELL: Changing of the guard in NSWApr 24, 2020
Damien Tudehope, ultra-conservative Minister for Finance and Small Business, is the new Leader of the Government in the NSW Upper House. He replaces former Arts Minister Don Harwin who quit in disgrace. The Liberal Party’s right-wing faction is now calling the shots.
When NSW Legislative Council MLC Damien Tudehope was appointed Government Leader of the House in mid-April, his salary shot up to $345,152. The promotion came with a limousine and chauffeur, luxury offices in Parliament House, a personal staff and a full bar and fridge (exclusively for guests).
Premier Gladys Berejiklian approved Tudehope’s grand new job but Parliament House is swirling with rumours that in fact Deputy Liberal Leader, Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, made the call. If so, Premier Berejiklian appears to have ceded control of her Government to the Liberal Party’s right-wing faction and its two leading powerbrokers, Perrottet and Tudehope.
Both are Catholics, close friends, political allies and uncomfortably ambitious. Working closely with the NSW division’s John Howard, Tony Abbott and Alex Hawke, their aim is not to defeat Labor but to defeat Liberal “wets” who are secret “socialists” like Malcolm Turnbull.
Talking about the FederalParliamentary Liberal Party in Canberra, former Prime Minister Turnbull told Leigh Sales this week: “The right-wing operates in the Liberal Party … the way they operate is to basically bully and intimidate people. And what they do … is to create enough mayhem, enough damage, that people in the middle say, ‘It has got to come to an end, how can I stop this terrible horror?’”
Warming to his theme, Turnbull let fly at the “sea of paranoia” in Canberra: “Power for power’s sake is what drives far too many people in politics. I would say most people in politics frankly and a huge number of people in the media. It is just power for power’s sake. It turns them on. It is an aphrodisiac. A drug, whatever you want to call it.
“For me, power without purpose was pointless. The idea that you would sit in the Prime Minister’s chair or the Premier’s chair or Minister’s chair and not actually get things done seemed to me to be mad. Why wouldn’t you be better off sailing or paddling a kayak or reading a book?”
The Tudehope-Perrottet alliance on Sydney’s North Shore goes back a long way. In 2010, Tudehope, then a spokesman for the grandly titled Australian Family Association, a rabidly anti-gay and anti-abortion lobby group, failed in a bid to become Liberal candidate for the safe seat of Baulkham Hills. Tudehope, a father of nine children and reputedly a member of the Opus Dei sect, the strong arm of orthodoxy at the Vatican, rose to attention campaigning against PM John Howard’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2004.
He ran for the Lower House seat of Epping and won. He was gifted the seat by former NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith, another reported supporter of Opus Dei, who employed Tudehope as his chief of staff. Tudehope held Epping from 2015 to 2019.He relinquished the seat in a deal with Dominic Perrottet who wanted to shift from marginal Hawkesbury to safe-as-houses Epping. In exchange, Tudehope sought pre-selection on the Liberal ticket for the Upper House and duly became an MLC in March 2019. One month later he walked straight into Berejiklian’s Government as Minister for Finance and Small Business.
Tudehope’s mercurial rise in the Parliamentary Liberal Party is nothing short of astonishing. Elected to the Legislative Council one year ago, Tudehope has climbed from backbencher ($169,192 per year), to committee chairman ($190,342), to junior Minister ($309,621), to Government Leader of the Upper House ($345,152). That’s a whopping pay rise of $175,960 or 100%. All in a mere 12 months.
He is now concentrated on pet projects: stopping any reform of euthanasia laws, reversing Parliament’s legislation supporting gay marriage and decriminalising abortion (he opposed both law changes) and recruiting new members to Parliament’s prayer breakfasts.
The ascendancy of the Liberal Party’s far right casts a shadow over the political future of Premier Berejiklian who has been a foot soldier for the party’s liberal-minded wing, the “wets”, since she was a teenager. Her colleagues are asking: “Like Malcolm Turnbull – has she grown tired of the relentless infighting and back-stabbing?” And if so, what next?
Alex Mitchell is a former Sydney Sun-Herald State Political Editor whose commentary appears every Friday. His latest book, Murder in Melbourne – The Untold Story of Palestinian student Aiia Maasarwe, is available here.