When Premier Chris Minns walked into the humble Profiterole Patisserie in Penrith on Tuesday afternoon, customers offered a ‘I know that guy’ glance before quickly going back to their coffees and tasty treats.
He’s not necessarily the person you expect to stroll into your local coffee shop, especially with no throng of cameras and journalists in tow and no election close by.
Minns had just left those journalists a couple of hundred metres down the road in Thornton after making an announcement about the appointment of the New South Wales Rental Commissioner, a first for the state.
At Profiterole Patisserie, he’s sitting down exclusively with The Western Weekender to discuss his first four months as Premier, and the key role Penrith played in his ground-breaking election win in March.
Minns lives the humble ‘nice guy’ persona he portrayed during the election campaign. While ordering coffees, he introduces himself to a local family. After our interview, he takes an impromptu tour of the café’s kitchen and back-of-house facilities – genuinely intrigued by its operations.
Minns is the first Labor Premier to hold Penrith since Kristina Keneally in 2010. He acknowledges the trust the community has put in the party and is confident in Karen McKeown, who won the seat from Stuart Ayres at the election.
“She’s extremely independent and tough when it comes to her community,” Minns said.
“She’s Penrith first and everything else second, and I love that about her. Macquarie Street is a tough working environment, and she’s tough.
“I know what I’m getting with Karen and I know what the community is getting. I’m getting a handful, and that’s a good thing.”
Minns is still very much in his honeymoon period as Premier but knows the pressure is on him.
“I know that voters are going to pay on performance and that means delivering on our campaign pledges,” he said.
“[People will judge us on whether] we are able to, in an honest way and a credible way take on the issues confronting New South Wales and they include the state of the budget, which is $187 billion worth of debt.
“We’re butting up against these two things. The desire to do something for our community, which we want to invest in, but also… what a terrible inheritance that has been passed on to the next generation. It’s tough.”
Minns is adamant tackling the rental crisis is one of his core priorities, but says he’s keen to ensure Penrith is not over-burdened with new housing.
“Unless we can do something about the rental market in the short-term and the long-term, people are just going to leave,” he said.
“And that means starting families in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia and not contributing to the communities right here. We’ve got to try to get this right.
“About 10 years ago people would say am I ever going to be able to afford a house, now they’re saying am I ever going to be able to rent a place.”
Long-term, housing supply is the real issue – and Minns is aware of the delicate balance between delivering more development and dropping more housing where infrastructure can’t keep up.
“We’ve said constantly western Sydney cannot be the sole area of growth within Sydney,” he said.
“The previous government had identified the north west growth corridor, the south west corridor and Penrith as the major areas of population increase, but there’s nowhere near enough infrastructure to cope with the population as it currently exists let alone the proposed increases.
“So we’ve tasked the Greater Cities Commission with re-balancing those housing targets closer to the CBD, which should in fact reduce pressure on Penrith and surrounding communities.
“My government has got to do a better job in explaining that to families in western Sydney because I think while we’re irritating people close to the coast with our proposed changes, I don’t think we’re saying in clear enough terms to people who live in western Sydney that we get it, and we understand you can’t be expected to take the vast majority of population growth.”
Another issue Minns is keen to address is domestic violence, which statistics say is a particular problem in the Penrith area. He has noted recent comments by the NSW Police Commissioner, Karen Webb, in which she called for offenders to be treated like terrorists and organised crime members.
“NSW Police are often called in at the point where an offender needs to be locked up or charged and they see the real world implications of family and domestic violence, which potentially policy makers and Premiers don’t see face-to-face, so we have to take what she says seriously and we are,” Minns said.
“We’re looking at all kinds of potential policy changes to keep people safe. It’s not just about that though. It’s also about housing and ensuring that women in particular have an opportunity to leave an abusive relationship and go into safe and secure housing. That’s not an easy thing to do because it gets caught up in other things the government is facing.”
“We’re looking at specific measures for people who are facing family and domestic violence that can make a difference.”
While Minns said budget challenges would continue to collide with “natural instincts” to make interventions, he said he’s loving the job.
“There’s a buzz about jumping in the car in the morning and listening to the radio and hearing your day described to you on the air waves,” he said.
“It’s a massive privilege and I’m having a ball, I’m loving it… more than I thought I would.”
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.