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Berejiklian and Barilaro out, but let's not celebrate yet

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NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet is likely to take over as Premier after the resignation of Gladys Berejiklian (Image by Dan Jensen)

After the departure of Gladys Berejiklian and John Barilaro, it's possible that things will go from bad to worse for the NSW Government, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

IN A MOVE as baffling as it is dramatic, popular former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian last week announced that not only was she resigning as Premier, she was also resigning from Parliament, causing a by-election in her seat of Willoughby.

Berejiklian’s decision was provoked by what she describes as the untimely revelation by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) of an investigation into her conduct between 2012 and 2018. Specifically, there was a focus on her alleged involvement in grants handed to organisations in the electorate of her then-secret lover, disgraced former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire.

It is customary in NSW for politicians embroiled in an ICAC investigation to stand aside for the duration of the inquiry. However, the well-liked Berejiklian has, inexplicably, gone much further, ending her career at what many would claim is its zenith as she manoeuvred (for better or for worse) the state through its current COVID-19 crisis.

Remarkably, Berejiklian also left a few short months before she became eligible for a generous retirement package:

‘NSW Premiers who have served at least five years in the position can continue to enjoy state-funded entitlements including a car, a driver, an office and staff, after they leave the position.’

The former Premier has explained her decision as being in the interests of the people of NSW, who she claims ought not to be left with leadership uncertainty at this time. If this is indeed her motive, one can only marvel at the considerable financial sacrifice she has made to spare her state uncertainty, not to mention the loss of her career. These outcomes seem, at first blush, unnecessarily histrionic, given there are more moderate alternatives.

It will be interesting to see what Ms Berejiklian does next. It will need to be remarkable to justify the unnecessary (at this point, prior to any ICAC outcome) sacrifice of career and rich future benefits.

Had Berejiklian stood aside as Premier and remained in Parliament, her Deputy, the Nationals’ John Barilaro, would have stepped up for the duration. Temporarily handing the reins to a Deputy Premier seems a much less disruptive solution for the people of NSW than a shock resignation, a by-election and a new leader.

However, John Barilaro, having missed out on the opportunity to run the state for an indefinite period, has now announced his resignation from the NSW Parliament.

It seems likely that Treasurer Dominic Perrottet will be the next NSW Premier.

Mr Perrottet is a conservative Catholic with strong links to the secretive Catholic organisation, Opus Dei. Perrottet has been quite open about how his faith influences his political decisions:

Perrottet is committed to protecting the sanctity of confession and is opposed to any legislation that requires priests to report confessions of child sexual abuse.

Perrottet also voted against decriminalising abortion in NSW.

Opus Dei, like Pentecostalism, is a global movement that is intent on gaining political influence.

Church and State, a UK organisation that ‘challenges religious privilege in public life’ describes the activities and goals of Opus Dei as follows:

Opus Dei pursues the Vatican’s agenda through the presence of its members in secular governments and institutions and through a vast array of academic, medical and grassroots pursuits. Its constant effort [is] to increase its presence in civil institutions of power. [T]heir work in the public sphere breaches the church-state division that is fundamental to modern democracy.

 

Opus Dei is mostly middle and upper-class businessmen, professionals, military personnel and government officials. Its members control a large number of banks and financial institutions.

Should Perrottet become the next NSW Premier, Australia will have a Pentecostal Prime Minister and a member of Opus Dei as leader of our most populous state.

This is not cheerful news for women and members of the LGBTQI community. It suggests that the Liberal Party has been deeply infiltrated by religious extremists who are achieving powerful leadership roles, in keeping with the goals of both cults.

While the conservative Catholic cult differs from the Pentecostals, the ways in which they are alike are centred on patriarchal control of women, our bodies and our struggle for autonomy and equity. Both cults are opposed to same sex relationships and neither fosters an environment that is safe for LGBTQI people.

And let’s not forget that Prime Minister Scott Morrison considers himself to have been, along with his wife, Jenny, chosen by God to govern Australia.

It will be again argued that a politician’s faith is a private matter, usually by privileged men who, unlike women, are unaffected by the religious compulsion to control us and to control individual sexuality. Religious legislators invariably seek to introduce laws that restrict women’s rights and block reforms that guarantee them. Women well know the precarious nature of the gains we have made and how quickly we can lose them.  

To demand that we ignore a leader’s religiosity, particularly when both Morrison and Perrottet are both quite open about how their faith influences their politics, is an attempt to silence us, an attempt that is inevitably disguised as “respect for privacy”.

If we are to be governed by men and women who seek to control our most intimate decisions in the name of their god, we have every right to know this and anyone who argues otherwise must be regarded as hostile to women.

Whatever her reasons, Berejiklian has left the people of NSW a mess they could well have done without, given the pandemic they are currently struggling to contain. Though she claims to have done this in their interests, a cynic may well ponder exactly whose interest have been served by her resignations and to what end.

Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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