Politically and personally, Gladys Berejiklian has had her best year and her worst. The Premier’s popularity is high on the back of her competent handling of the pandemic.
Berejiklian is still extremely popular, but her year will not end on a high
Source: Alexandra Smith, News Corp
She is seen as having skilfully steered NSW through the stormy waters of COVID-19, with the only real blip the Ruby Princess cruise ship debacle which ultimately did not damage her credibility.
Critically, almost three-quarters of voters surveyed for a Herald and Nine News Ipsos poll say they are happy with how her government has managed the pandemic, giving Berejiklian a personal approval rating of 63 per cent.
Her senior ministers credit her with making vital decisions, even down to setting up a state emergency operations centre so every key government agency could work side by side.
Berejiklian’s work ethic is also unquestionable, chairing a daily crisis cabinet for months on end, never missing a meeting and then fronting press conferences to provide much awaited updates.
But popularity does not shield a leader from scrutiny, nor does it last forever.
Berejiklian’s shock admission to a corruption hearing that she had been in a secret long-term romance with the very person at the centre of the investigation will plague her.
Again, the voters surveyed support Berejiklian and 63 per cent are convinced the relationship does not warrant her resignation. But worryingly (and not surprisingly) for the Premier, 71 per cent say her reputation has been damaged. They do not want her to go, but they know her halo has slipped.
The Coalition is a third-term government and runs the very real risk of becoming arrogant and complacent, in a similar vein to NSW Labor between 2007 and 2011.
Labor won an election it should have lost and has paid the price ever since.
The recent problems engulfing the public insurer icare is a perfect example of arrogance.
The government initially batted away reports of the widespread underpayment of injured workers, assuming the operations of a little known public agency would not be of much interest.
But as more details of the troubled insurer emerged, from conflicts of interest to questionable hiring practises in the office of Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, the government conceded it had a problem.
Berejiklian’s approval rating high but her reputation has taken a hit
The view within the Liberals is the icare cloud hanging over Perrottet will prevent him, in the short term, being a viable option for leader. His time could still come, but for now he is wounded.
The council grants scheme, which saw $250 million doled out to councils in Coalition-held seats only for approval paperwork to be shredded, is also emerging as a significant issue for Berejiklian.
It is NSW’s version of the federal sports rorts, which claimed the scalp of a minister in Canberra.
Berejiklian is clearly still extremely popular. But her year will not end on a high. It seems clear she will ride out this storm thanks to the support of the voters – but it would only take one further misstep for her hold on the leadership to slip.