It’s time for Dominic Perrottet to prepare for Opposition

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A funny thing happens on the way to losing an election.

Experienced Ministers, very much used to being in government and not wanting to serve in Opposition, suddenly feel the time is right to call it a day.

Spend more time with the family, that kind of thing.

David Elliott’s announcement last weekend that he would not contest the 2023 NSW Election is not so much about desire as it is factional and loyalty issues, but one feels he may have pushed a little harder for a solution if March 2023 looked like more of a fight than it currently does.

Elliott, apart from a few faux pas including heading to bed before a decision was made without him to halt Sydney’s train operations back in February and an ill-timed overseas trip at the height of the bushfire crisis in 2019, has been a reasonably good Minister.

Others on the retirement list have served NSW well too, including Rob Stokes, Victor Dominello, Melinda Pavey, Gabrielle Upton and Geoff Lee.

And Health Minister Brad Hazzard is going too, announcing on Monday night that he would not go around again. At 71, and having been on the frontline of the COVID battle in NSW, his decision wasn’t a huge surprise.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

Those with good knowledge of NSW politics know that things tend to go in cycles, and lengthy ones at that.

In fact, you have to go all the way back to 1930 to find the last time a party served only one term in government in this state.

So those Ministers with a little grey in the hair know that even if they do retain their seats at the election, the chances of them ever seeing government again are slim.

Some would say it’s jumping ship.

Others would argue it’s the clean-out needed to give newcomers the experience required for when their time comes, whenever that may be.

The same thing happens at a Federal level and in fact some Liberals who retired ahead of the 2019 election probably regretted their decision when ScoMo produced his unforgettable miracle on election night.

The reality for the Coalition in NSW, which formed Government in 2011 after four consecutive Labor terms, is that losing next March’s election appears inevitable.

Not that Labor doesn’t have its own issues.

Chris Minns may still be in his honeymoon phase but he’s had trouble along the way, as evidenced last week when Tania Mihailuk declared Labor not ready to govern in a stinging ‘drop the mic’ exit from the party.

One could easily declare sour grapes but Labor’s history with corruption, and the way the party so spectacularly fell from power back in 2011, means Mr Minns must convince the public Labor has changed.

The comments of Ms Mihailuk, his Bankstown MP, certainly raised some eyebrows, and would have also risen confidence in the office of Dominic Perrottet, where wins appear few and far between at present.

But we all know that next March’s election isn’t really about Labor. Sure, they could still lose the election if Mr Minns can’t ensure a united and trouble-free front, but in reality this is partly a referendum on the Coalition and partly the cycle I referenced earlier doing its thing.

There is just a feeling that the winds of change are in the air and there’s nothing that Dominic Perrottet can do to stop it, especially with so many MPs departing.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet. Photo: Megan Dunn.

Mr Perrottet always took on something of a poisoned chalice. Following one of the most popular Premiers NSW has ever seen in the shape of Gladys Berejiklian was never going to be easy.

Throw in the fact that Ms Berejiklian’s departure came after such a stoic effort in guiding the state through one of its most challenging periods in history, and the task was always going to be near-impossible.

The public went from seeing Ms Berejiklian on a one-track COVID mission at 11am each day, to Mr Perrottet dealing with the usual back and forth of politics. It was never going to play all that well.

A fair question now may not be if the Coalition will win the election in March, but how long they’ll spend in Opposition.

With so many experienced Ministers calling it quits, Mr Perrottet can’t exactly go to the election backing in experience or his current front bench.

Indeed, if he wins in March there will be a new Health Minister, a new Transport Minister and a Cabinet that looks nothing like it does now.

All of this while one of his best assets, Stuart Ayres, sits on the sideline.
The Penrith MP has every right to return to Cabinet after he was cleared of any wrongdoing in the John Barilaro saga.

He himself faces the real prospect of losing his seat, which was already on a very thin margin before redistribution made it even more difficult to win.

State Penrith MP Stuart Ayres at Emu Plains Station.

One thing nobody can deny about Mr Ayres is his tenacity, passion for the job and his desire to get things done. His critics rarely acknowledge this, but he has youth and enthusiasm on his side and keeping him on the reserve bench simply isn’t the right move from Mr Perrottet at present.

For the good of the party long term, you need people like Stuart Ayres to survive in March. Robbing him of a Cabinet platform almost ensures he won’t.

Labor is rightly preparing for Government. The Coalition needs to prepare for Opposition, and equally prepare for limiting how much time it spends there.

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