Gladys Berejiklian was surely hoping for a smoother start to her new cabinet.
Minor (and humanising) flubs from her about who the Premier is might dominate the media for 24 hours, but there should be far more disquiet over the performance of one new minister, Tanya Davies, the member for Mulgoa in Sydney’s west. Her train wreck press conference continues to dominate the news cycle.
The member for Mulgoa is in her second term in NSW Parliament. The suburban former physio sat on Penrith Council before being elected the member for Mulgoa in 2011. Her husband also serves on Penrith Council; perhaps this is why he felt comfortable “releasing” her to her current role, as she so memorably put it in her maiden speech. She was quizzed about this line by journalists too — unsurprising as she is well-known to be an active member of a Pentecostal church. She also declared an anti-abortion position in her first press conference, obliging a stony-faced Berejiklian to step in. Davies refused to rule out changes; Berejiklian said there was no policy change coming. Can they both be right?
Both Family Life International and the Life, Marriage and Family Centre (part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney) endorse Davies as a candidate who follows a conservative religious line on euthanasia, reproductive justice and homophobia. Davies has also made it clear she supports continued discrimination in the Marriage Act. It’s easy for Davies in some ways to get the tick of approval from these groups, as socially progressive legislation on same-sex adoption, euthanasia and the like predates her election in 2011, when the ALP lost office.
The bigger question remains, though, of what exactly Berejiklian thought would happen. As Alex Mitchell reported on Monday, it’s no secret the new Premier is beholden to a group of right-wing MPs for her position. Are they already flexing their muscles? It is quite a turnaround to have a Minister for Women who doesn’t believe women should be able to make their own medical decisions, perhaps the first in the history of the ministry in NSW. Does the NSW right now feel so confident the pretense of a moderate woman in the role is no longer required? Jillian Skinner’s resignation aside, there are some Liberal women remaining who are sensible, moderate and experienced enough to think on their feet at a press conference who could have taken the role.
Davies is part of a group associated with Deputy Leader Dominic Perrottet, who is widely understood to have delivered the right’s numbers to the moderate Berejiklian. Like with Malcolm Turnbull’s deals to become the prime minister, the questions now all revolve around what Berejiklian had to promise to whom to become premier. Kristina Keneally was excoriated in the Bearpit as Eddy Obeid and Joe Tripodi’s girl, but at least her own faction installed her. Will the NSW Liberal Party replicate the dynamic playing out at a federal level, with a leader beholden to another faction at odds with his own leanings?
Perrottet and Davies’ own socially conservative views are closely aligned and now well known, so he could be expected to support Davies in any crusade in these areas. How he will conduct himself in his portfolio area of industrial relations remains to be seen. Whether a Liberal government awash in stamp duty will continue to cut into public service funding is an open question, with the Centrelink debacle still playing out. Similarly, it is yet to be seen if the fears of LGBTIQA groups will be borne out and Davies will deal in mental health as sensitively as she has reproductive services access.
You have to wonder though who it will be the bigger problem for: the NSW voters affected, or the NSW Premier.