Since winning the State Election almost one year ago, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has remodelled herself as the “listening” premier who wants to “reconnect” her Coalition Government with voters. Is it working?
Behind the avalanche of media spin, Premier Berejiklian is replacing Cabinet rule with a corporate executive. Her government has come to resemble a board of directors of NSW Inc.
The transformation is welcomed by banks, developers and billionaire investors. In other words, the Liberal Party’s heartland. They have been lobbying for a capitalist free-for-all for decades on the grounds that government “red tape” is a brake on development (read profit).
The Coalition’s futuristic oligarchy is authoritarian, anti-democratic, remote and shrouded in secrecy. It is central to Ms Berejiklian’s legacy when she decides to quit the premiership.
While the invading European founder-settlers built a six-state Commonwealth with separate parliaments in a liberal democracy, their model has been junked in NSW and is threatened in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. Primary power in NSW no longer lies with elected politicians but is noticeably shifting to unelected vested interests in Sydney’s CBD. The role of the politicians is being reduced to rubber-stamping the business plans of the City.
Premier Berejiklian’s methodology, or modus operandi, is clear-cut. She says one thing and then does the opposite. Sometimes the change of mind is genuine, but other times it is the result of pressure from three unremitting points: 1) private vested interests; 2) the conservative pro-John Howard and Tony Abbott faction in her government; or 3) influential babblers on commercial talkback radio, TV and newspaper columnists, such as Alan Jones, Ray Hadley and Miranda Devine.
Whenever public pressure reaches a critical point, she will acknowledge people’s concerns, but she won’t change her mind. She digs in or creates a diversion by changing the conversation.
Ms Berejiklian is not alone in building an authoritarian state that rides roughshod over popular demands. The self-same policy is running riot in Washington under US President Donald Trump and in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit dystopian world.
Following three States of Emergency, alarming loss of life, the destruction of farmland, trees and millions of natural species, the NSW Coalition Government has responded in the most bizarre way: the Premier’s office has banned the CC-word (climate change) and simultaneously given repeated assurances of a “bright future” for mining and exporting minerals.
In his final book before his death in 2016, the world’s most brilliant astrophysicist Stephen Hawking rated “climate catastrophe” as a bigger threat to the future existence of the planet than nuclear war or asteroid collision. No one was listening in the NSW government …
Former Premier Nick Greiner is one individual in NSW who is cheering the dramatic evolution of the CBD running NSW Inc. He made a bold attempt during his brief premiership to impose a similar plan but ran out of time and support in and out of parliament. One of his keenest staff members was a Young Liberal activist named Gladys Berejiklian.
Proclaiming himself a believer in “practical liberalism”, Hungarian-born Greiner said shortly before the 1988 election that he would run a government “in the interests of its consumers and owners rather than politicians and bureaucrats”. Greiner, a Riverview old boy like Tony Abbott who was also trained by the Jesuits, saw his role as managing director of NSW Inc. It sounded plausible enough and voters warmed to his straight-shooting approach. Besides, there might be a quid in it: “As Premier, I will be concerned to obtain better results for the shareholders of NSW Inc,” he promised.
To achieve his corporate vision, Greiner drew from the monetarist playbook which included corporatisation, deregulation, privatisation, contracting out and asset sales. While NSW residents are still living with the dire consequences of Greiner’s “experiment”, his former staffer, Gladys Berejiklian, has dedicated her premiership to completing what her former boss started.
She began the New Year by introducing another stage of her autocracy: the merging of ministerial portfolios. Once again, it sounded plausible enough and was sold as a cash-saving reform. It isn’t.
The amalgamation of portfolios – or “smaller government” – always ends up costing more, not less. Portfolios are “out-sourced” to Coalition-leaning private contractors who make a motza. Some departments and statutory bodies are scrapped altogether. Experienced civil servants are thrown on the scrapheap of unemployment, euphemistically called “early retirement”.
The saddest thing of all is that it will take years, or even decades, to restore good governance, regulation, accountability and transparency to our system of government.
Alex Mitchell is our regular NSW political correspondent. His commentary appears every Friday. A former Sydney Sun-Herald State Political Editor, his most recent book is Murder in Melbourne: The untold story of Aiia Maasarwe. For more information or to purchase see http://www.cometherevolution.com.au/murder-in-melbourne/