New NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet won’t rush to reopen the state early, committing to changes scheduled for Monday, despite speculation he might bring forward the lockdown’s end.
After an emphatic victory in the Liberal party room ballot on Tuesday, Mr Perrottet – who previously opposed extending Sydney’s lockdown – said he “will obviously look at the roadmap”, but would not rule out tinkering with Gladys Berejiklian’s plans.
“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 told his first press conference as Premier.
Following last week’s shock resignation of Ms Berejiklian, Mr Perrottet nominated as NSW Liberal leader alongside the state’s Planning Minister, Rob Stokes. Mr Perrottet prevailed 39-5, with Stuart Ayres – the partner of federal Foreign Minister Marise Payne – becoming deputy party leader after running unopposed.
Under NSW’s reopening roadmap, the state will exit lockdown and gradually reopen hospitality, shops and entertainment from the first Monday after 70 per cent adult double vaccination rates are reached. That is set for October 11, with NSW at 67.5 per cent vaccination as of Monday.
But some had speculated that Mr Perrottet, who was swiftly sworn in as Premier on Tuesday afternoon, might look to speed up that timetable upon taking charge of NSW. He had reportedly advocated for a looser lockdown and faster reopening while part of Ms Berejiklian’s cabinet.
On Tuesday, he said the roadmap would be re-examined.
“I will sit down with [Health] Minister [Brad] Hazzard and the health team alongside Minister Ayres and members of the crisis cabinet to have a discussion in relation to the roadmap,” Mr Perrottet said.
“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.”
“We are at an important juncture. On Monday, the state opens up and we want to get people back into work, get business open again, and that is the focus of our government today.”
Mr Perrottet has previously advocated for all NSW citizens, regardless of their vaccination status, to regain freedoms at the same time, once targets are reached. Under NSW’s current roadmap, double-vaccinated people will have restrictions eased from Monday, but those who aren’t must wait until December to access hospitality and retail.
Mr Perrottet said he would look to a wider ministry reshuffle sometime during the summer. Ahead of that, Environment Minister Matt Kean will replace him as treasurer.
The new Premier comes from the conservative wing of the Liberal Party, and is expected to cut a far more socially traditionalist swathe than his predecessor, the moderate Ms Berejiklian. A devout Catholic, he opposed decriminalising abortion, and called Donald Trump’s 2016 US presidential win “a victory for people who have been taken for granted by the elites”.
On Tuesday, Mr Perrottet said he was “incredibly proud” of his faith, and criticised those who had questioned how it interacted with his political positions.
“We live in a very diverse society. I think some of the criticism in relation to that diversity has been unfounded,” he said.
“I love our state and I love the diversity and the multicultural backgrounds and the religious backgrounds. Diversity should be celebrated. It should not be criticised. People should judge people on who they are and what they say, not based on some religious element, and I am very proud of the fact that I have a strong Christian faith.”
“Does that in any way take away my capacity to serve as premier? Well, I do not think so, and I think it is a sad thing that some people do, but I think people right across our state, in the main, believe in freedom of religion and freedom of the opportunity to serve in public life regardless of what your ethnic background and what your religious values are.”
Despite reports of previous spectacular blow-ups with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Mr Perrottet said the pair had “a very constructive relationship”.
The Nine newspapers reported in August that the duo squared off on a video call over Mr Perrottet’s push for greater financial support for lockdown areas, with reports Mr Morrison “let loose, hurling the F-bomb at Perrottet”.
Mr Perrottet seemingly confirmed the reports on Tuesday, calling Mr Morrison “a passionate guy” and saying “from time to time, you’re not always going to agree”.
“But disagreements aren’t necessarily a bad thing,” he said.
Mr Perrottet also distanced himself from federal government criticism of the ICAC process that led to Ms Berejiklian’s resignation. Just hours earlier, Mr Morrison said he didn’t want to see NSW’s integrity commission model replicated on the federal level, criticising its approach and claiming it was “a pretty good call not to follow that model”.
Other federal ministers, including deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, have also been scathing of ICAC.
But Mr Perrottet said he had no issues with the commission’s operation, saying he had no plans to “reform” ICAC.
“The integrity agencies, the ICAC, have an important role to play. They will do their work, and their work should be respected,” he said.