On Dominic Perrottet’s to-do list after replacing Gladys Berejiklian as NSW Premier was to have a chat to Member for Lake Macquarie Greg Piper as one of three Independent crossbenchers crucial to the embattled Coalition Government.

Piper told NovoNews the day after Perrottet’s ascendancy on Tuesday that he was yet to receive the call but was expecting it at some point.

“I’ve spoken to his chief of staff,” he said. “We will be talking to him. It’s not as if we don’t know each other so it’s just a matter of the time being found.”

Piper did not feel it was a matter of urgency.

“No, I’m perfectly relaxed. We’ll just take things as they come,” he said.

Not expecting a call from Perrottet any time soon and not relaxed about the events of the past week were the region’s Labor MPs. 

Member for Newcastle Tim Crakanthorp did not pull any punches in the wake of Berejiklian’s resignation.

Likewise, Member for Charlestown Jodie Harrison expressed serious concerns about the parliamentary upheaval at a crucial point in the state’s COVID response.

Crakanthorp said the resignations of Berejiklian, John Barilaro and Andrew Constance in quick succession indicated a fractured government.

“I think everyone would acknowledge the leadership Ms Berejiklian demonstrated through the bushfires in particular. However, she joins a long list of MPs to resign as a result of an ICAC investigation, which is something we know all about in the Hunter,” Crakanthorp said, alluding to the eye-opening events of 2014 when two former Liberal MPs, Tim Owen (Newcastle) and Andrew Cornwell (Charlestown), resigned from NSW Parliament following an ICAC inquiry into political donations.

“The subsequent resignations of the Deputy Premier and the Transport Minister show that after 10 long years this government is falling apart,” Crakanthorp added.

“Dominic Perrottet is a good debater and quick with a quip, but he is also politically conservative and has overseen infrastructure cost blowouts and a ruthless privatisation agenda.

“I don’t believe he is good for NSW.”

Harrison was equally scathing.

“The history of these men [Perrottet and new Deputy Liberal Leader Stuart Ayres] in relation to injured workers and privatisations, particularly in relation to transport, gives me no confidence whatsoever that they will be considering the needs, wants and aspirations of people here in their decision making,” she said.

“These massive leadership changes at a time when the Hunter is experiencing its highest ever COVID case numbers is truly concerning.”

ICAC’s announcement at the beginning of October that it was investigating matters involving Berejiklian, and her subsequent departure from Parliament, came when the state was preparing to open up again after a long and difficult COVID lockdown.

Piper said he did not think the Government’s roadmap to freedom would take any major detours under Perrottet’s leadership.

“I think we’re getting so close to those targets of 70 and 80 per cent [vaccination] that it’s probably only finessing that needs to be done anyway now,” he said.

Piper has praised the NSW Government’s action on promoting and facilitating COVID vaccinations in difficult circumstances.
Photo supplied: Terry White Chemmart Pharmacy

“The big initiatives were about preparing the hospitals for large numbers of COVID-infected patients. I know it hasn’t been perfect by any measure but these things are new, they’re unique. You will get mistakes. Let’s not dwell on that. Let’s fix them and move on.

“The other thing that had to be done was to get vaccinations up, and once again, not perfect but NSW is actually going very well in that space considering that we’ve had problems of supply.

“They’ve [the NSW Coalition Government] done some really good things, but they’ll be found wanting when we look at them in hindsight, I’m sure. Every detractor will be able to pick out the things that went wrong but, overall, we seem to have done pretty well.

“A little bit might be luck, but it’s been a lot of effort by our authorities and also by the community.”

Piper’s philosophical view of the Government’s pandemic response is much the same as his take on the sensational events of the past week.

“I’m just not that fazed by it,” he said. “I’m disappointed, but not that fazed. The Government’s actually in minority, that’s true, but I’m still pretty relaxed. I’ll just deal with each issue on a case-by-case basis.”

Piper said he had had a good working relationship with Gladys Berejiklian, and was disappointed by the circumstances of her departure.

“Frankly, I think she’s a very decent person but that’s not me drawing any conclusions about any of the allegations. That hasn’t been tested,” he said.

“I fully support having a strong ICAC, but I don’t know that people should be churned up just in the investigatory process. I think that’s a bit unfair. 

“I know that it’s taken out some high-profile people along the way who deserve to be taken out but, geez, it’s left a lot of roadkill along the highway, and they don’t seem to be too concerned about that.

“Basically, it’s a question of whether or not she ignored any reasonable suspicion she might have had about the actions of her partner [at the time].” 

Piper said he didn’t think it was fair that, because of the airing of recorded phone conversations she’d had with former partner Daryl Maguire, “she’s been tried not just by the ICAC but she’s been tried by the court of public opinion and the media”.

“This is why Berejiklian had to resign,” he said. “I mean there are issues around her responsibilities as Premier but, realistically, when you know that the Premier is under investigation, she’s a lame duck. She can’t operate in the Parliament. She’ll be under attack by her detractors at every opportunity . . . she’ll be answering media questions every day. It becomes untenable. 

“I don’t like the process but I certainly wouldn’t want to get rid of the ICAC.”

Accompanying Perrottet’s premiership win has been media commentary around the new leader’s staunch religious beliefs, his opposition to same-sex marriage, his voting against the 2019 bill to decriminalise abortion, and his objection to voluntary assisted dying legislation. Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich’s private member’s bill on voluntary assisted dying, co-authored and co-sponsored by Piper, is expected to be one of the first items on the agenda when State Parliament resumes this week.

The Lake Macquarie MP, though, is not concerned about Perrottet’s personal views.

“No, I’m quite relaxed about comments that Dominic Perrottet has made about this,” he said.

“I know where Dominic Perrottet comes from. We have different perspectives because so much of his is based on the strong faith that he’s got. My perspective on that is that there’s a lot of people of strong faith who actually support it [voluntary assisted dying bill].

“You know what Dominic Perrottet does have, is an understanding of process. 

“He’s also smart enough to know that if it [the bill] was defeated based on a decision by himself as Premier to deny a conscience vote that that doesn’t put it to bed. 

“On such an important matter, there’s only one way to deal with this and that is to allow the people as much as possible to have their say through their representatives. 

“The only way they can do that is a conscience vote, and therefore I believe he will allow a conscience vote. He’s indicated as much, so I’m not concerned at all.

“What we have to do is keep working on some of the better policies and initiatives of the former regime – same government, different leadership.

“There’s some really good things that the Government had been doing and, in my view, a lot of it falls under the environment portfolio, that was under Matt Kean – a change to renewables and that’s a big issue for my area.”

Piper said he would be keen to talk to Kean about what happens next in this space.

“I have to say, I have sent Matt a message and I’ll be talking to him about it. Good on him. I know he wanted to be Treasurer. It’s a real honour for him, but he’s been a great warrior for environmental reform. 

“We have to make sure his passion is not lost.”

Piper said Kean had been the driving force behind “paradigm shifts in the way we go about dealing with energy demand and energy production and distribution”.

“There’s so much going on in that space, we really can’t afford to let that drop off . . . don’t worry about whether or not you believe in climate change, don’t worry if you’re worried about it being an environmental issue, think about it being an economic or a market-driven issue because the technology is incentivising the markets to go that way because they’re producing cheap power,” Piper said.

“These are the sorts of things that Matt Kean was delivering. I doubt that he will walk away from that. As Treasurer he will have a very significant role in that policy.”

Piper said he was interested to see who would take on the Energy and Environment portfolio because “Matt would probably be the most energetic and big-picture minister we’ve had in that space in my time and unusually, of course, because he’s coming from a very conservative side of politics”.

Piper said he would “keep on working with government” with a view to seeing local and regional initiatives conceived during Berejiklian’s time come to fruition.

“There are so many projects that are outstanding, that I’d like to get across the line. Some are relatively small but every little project has an effect on some community.”

NovoNews also approached Labor MP Sonia Hornery (Wallsend) for comment but did not receive a response.

Gina Cranson