Dominic Perrottet strikes conciliatory tone as he becomes NSW premier

Conservative signals he will support a number of the state’s existing policies, including the Covid roadmap, in his first press conference as leader

Dominic Perrottet has indicated he supports a conscience vote on a voluntary assisted dying bill, says he will maintain the New South Wales government’s commitments on climate change, and stick to the state’s roadmap out of Covid-19 by reopening parts of the state from Monday.

In his first press conference after winning a party room vote to become the 46th NSW premier on Tuesday, Perrottet, a conservative who convincingly won the support of his Liberal party colleagues after striking a deal with the dominant moderate faction, struck a conciliatory tone by signalling he would stick with a number of existing policies.

Perrottet also said changing the power of the state’s anti-corruption watchdog was “not a focus of mine”, a blow for conservative pundits who have been agitating for a curtailing of the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s scope, after the resignation of Gladys Berejiklian.

In the main, Perrottet’s first address as premier was about stressing stability. While he conceded Berejiklian’s abrupt exit as leader in the midst of the state’s Covid outbreak had been “unsettling”, he sought to reassure voters he would offer a continuance of her leadership.

He appeared to dismiss reports of bringing forward the planned reopening of the state from next Monday to Friday, saying he would meet health officials on Tuesday afternoon.

“Obviously, this is early days and we have done so well and my intention at this stage is that that day will remain on Monday for next week, but there are a number of issues that need to be looked at,” he said.

Perrottet did not rule out some making changes to the roadmap, however. Asked he if would consider bringing forward the mooted date of school reopenings, the father of six suggested he was enthusiastic about seeing children return to the classroom.

“I, like every parent across the state, want the kids back in school as quickly as possible, so I can tell the people of NSW today I am committed to doing that,” he said.

The vote, sparked by Berejiklian’s resignation on Friday, confirmed Perrottet as the new Liberal party leader, easily beating a challenge by the planning minister, Rob Stokes, to win 39 votes to five.

The NSW Liberal party whip, Adam Crouch, confirmed the result, also announcing the Penrith MP, Stuart Ayres, had been elected deputy leader unopposed.

“It’s an honour and absolute privilege to be elected as the parliamentary leader of the Liberal party, the premier of NSW alongside my deputy leader, Stuart Ayres,” Perrottet said. “I really appreciate the trust my colleagues have put in me today.”

Perrottet won with the support of the moderate faction after promising top jobs to his factional rivals, including Ayres. Another moderate faction heavyweight, Matt Kean, will take over from Perrottet as treasurer.

Kean said his focus would be on “safely re-opening, getting the economy going and getting people back to work”.

“With interest rates low, now is the time to address the big challenges of our time – increasing productivity, ensuring woman have the same economic opportunities as men, and halving our emissions by 2030 in ways that grow the economy,” the new treasurer said.

Perrottet said he would not conduct a complete cabinet reshuffle until later in the year, saying the government’s focus should remain on seeing the state through the Covid crisis. He did concede that two women among the Liberal party’s ministers was not enough, saying he would push for increased diversity in cabinet.

Perrottet’s election as leader came despite concerns among some colleagues that his personal politics may put him at odds with the wider electorate. He has in the past been a staunch opponent of abortion reform, blamed welfare for declining fertility rates and celebrated the election of former US president Donald Trump as “a victory for people who have been taken for granted by the elites”.

But many of his colleagues believed concerns about Perrottet’s conservative instincts were overblown. He is highly personable and popular within the party, and many colleagues say any portrayal as a conservative warrior is not accurate.

Much of Perrottet’s leadership will need to be about placating the dominant moderate faction who handed him the premiership, and he indicated as much on Tuesday by expressing support for a conscience vote on a voluntary assisted dying bill currently before the parliament. A free vote on the bill has been a key concern for a number of high-profile moderates in the party.

“The parliament needs to be mature enough – and I think, in the main, conscience votes bring out the best in our parliaments,” he said.

Though Perrottet has in the past made comments critical of climate change reduction policies, he also indicated that he would stick to the government’s commitment to cut the state’s emissions in half this decade.

“The great thing about this government when it comes to meeting our net zero target is that we are completely on track without any policy change at all,” he said.

“Comments I have made in the past had been in respect of my, obviously, fiscal conservatism in making sure that when government invest money, they invest an impact and make a difference in people’s lives.”

Tuesday’s vote required 23 votes to secure the leadership. The Liberal party now has two MPs sitting on the crossbench, while Berejiklian was not present to vote on her successor.

Perrottet has been a member of the NSW crisis cabinet, which has overseen decisions on the state’s course out of a long Covid-19 lockdown, and has resisted harsher restrictions and opposed an extension of the lockdown in July.

On Tuesday, the Sydney Morning Herald had reported that he could seek to bring the partial reopening of the state forward to this Friday once the state reached a 70% rate of double vaccination. The reopening had been due on the Monday after the 70% rate was reached.

Stokes’ insistence on running despite Perrottet securing the support of the dominant moderates was something of an aberration. Perrottet becomes the fourth person to lead the party since the Coalition was elected in NSW a decade ago but is the first to have contested a leadership ballot.

Sign up to receive an email with the top stories from Guardian Australia every morning

After the vote, Stokes said the party had chosen “emphatically” and that Perrottet would have his “undivided loyalty and support”.

Berejiklian resigned after it was revealed the NSW anti-corruption watchdog was investigating whether she broke the law by failing to report the conduct of her ex-lover, the former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire.

In a bombshell announcement on Friday, Berejiklian said she had “no choice” but to resign as premier after the Independent Commission Against Corruption revealed it was investigating whether she had been involved in “a breach of public trust” between 2012 and 2018 because of her relationship with Maguire.

Her resignation prompted two other significant departures from the NSW parliament. The deputy premier and NSW Nationals leader, John Barilaro, also announced that he would quit parliament, as did the transport minister, Andrew Constance, a factional ally of Berejiklian’s. Constance intends to run for federal parliament in the seat of Gilmore.


Michael McGowan and Anne Davies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Dominic Perrottet set to become NSW premier after securing factional deal
State treasurer declares his intention to take over from Gladys Berejiklian with Stuart Ayres as deputy Liberal leader

Anne Davies

03, Oct, 2021 @7:54 AM

Article image
Dominic Perrottet on poking the ClubsNSW beast: ‘I didn’t start with many friends’
The NSW premier explains why he put his career on the line as the days count down to the state election

Michael McGowan

19, Mar, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Labor should not underestimate Dominic Perrottet and the new generation of NSW Liberal leaders
The new king comes with a powerful alliance of kingmakers who can unite the Liberal factions, but can they sell themselves to the public?

Anne Davies

04, Oct, 2021 @4:30 PM

Article image
Conservative warrior, economic reformer, premier? Meet Dominic Perrottet, NSW’s likely next leader
From climate change to welfare, here’s what we know about the MP set to replace Gladys Berejiklian as NSW premier

Michael McGowan

04, Oct, 2021 @5:32 AM

Article image
The John Barilaro affair has stripped the shine off NSW’s hardman premier Dominic Perrottet | Anne Davies
His handling of this crisis, which led to the resignation of his deputy Stuart Ayres, has colleagues questioning whether he has the right stuff under pressure

Anne Davies

03, Aug, 2022 @7:42 AM

Article image
NSW byelections: ‘disappointing across the board’, Perrottet says after Coalition suffers double-digit swings
Labor and Coalition likely to win two super Saturday contests each, but final result unlikely to be known for at least a week

Tamsin Rose

13, Feb, 2022 @2:22 AM

Article image
Gladys Berejiklian: six pressing matters facing the new NSW premier
As the New South Wales Liberal leader takes over from Mike Baird, these are her most immediate political problems

Christopher Knaus

23, Jan, 2017 @3:21 AM

Article image
Qld announces reopening plan; ACT hotspot status ends tonight – as it happened
All today’s news as it happened

Mostafa Rachwani and Amy Remeikis (earlier)

18, Oct, 2021 @8:26 AM

Article image
NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian: leadership spill called off by anti-abortion MPs
Rebel MPs had promised to move against the premier over her handling of abortion decriminalisation

Guardian staff

16, Sep, 2019 @10:45 PM

Article image
NSW byelections to be first big test for Dominic Perrottet and Chris Minns. Here’s what to look for
Saturday’s polls in four electorates are likely to have wide-ranging impacts – and set the tone for next year’s state election

Ben Raue

11, Feb, 2022 @7:00 PM