Berejiklian Abandons NSW as the Public Health Crisis Is About to Peak

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State Parliament is closed

At the end of the twelfth week of the Greater Sydney lockdown – a week that ended with the highest number of daily COVID-19 cases ever seen, as well as the release of a divisive roadmap to open up the state – NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian announced she was abandoning her post.

As the state hovers on the precipice of a period that ministers and health experts warn is likely to involve the worst COVID case numbers yet seen and the greatest burden on the hospital system, the premier advised her daily pressers will no longer be, as she needs more time to do her job.

Abandoning ship as it’s all about to hit the fan has become a trademark of Liberal leadership. Prime minister Scott Morrison took off to Hawaii for the unprecedented bushfire crisis, and he hid out at Kirribilli – remaining silent for days on end – during the initial stage of the current lockdown.

The math behind Berejiklian’s retreat is simple. Even after months of lockdown containment, the state of NSW is about to topple over into the most catastrophic period of the pandemic, so if the premier is no longer before us on the television, then perhaps she won’t be blamed.

But what doesn’t quite add up is that the premier announced she could no longer do the late morning televised briefs, as she needs that time to better perform her job, yet her government is continuing to refuse to front up to parliament.

Hiding from scrutiny

On Tuesday, elected members of the NSW Legislative Council turned up to parliament for the scheduled sitting day, only to find that the Berejiklian government had refused outright to attend, citing COVID concerns as the reason.

State parliament has not sat since 24 June. Labor, the Greens and crossbenchers have all called for a return, in order to gain some transparency around the decisions being made during the public health crisis.

Indeed, NSW parliament is the only seat of government refusing to open nationwide.

As other MLCs turned up on 14 September, measures had been taken to ensure the possibility of virus transmission was minimal. The limited number in the chamber were double vaxxed, had undergone rapid antigen testing and wore masks, while other members appeared via online link.

However, rather than allow parliament to officially meet, the Liberal Nationals refused to send even the one minister required under standing order 34 of the NSW Legislative Council Standing Rules and Orders that stipulates “the house will not meet unless a minister is present in the house”.

Exit… stage left

There are a number of reasons why the premier might prefer to hide at present. With the onset of the Delta variant, the move to lockdown was slow with 10 days transpiring between the first case being detected and the shutdown being implemented, and even then initial measures were laxed.

As case numbers grew higher, the attempt to eradicate the virus was dropped and replaced by plans to open up at 70 and 80 percent adult vaccination rates. But it’s been reported that the state government’s rush to open up isn’t based on the best advice of health professionals.

And it also seems to be a good time to lie low for the premier herself, as mounting questions are being asked around the ICAC investigation into her former partner and ex-MP Daryl Maguire and a $5.5 million grant he obtained for his electorate with the premier’s assistance.

Refusing to do its job

“I rise on behalf of the Greens to express our utter contempt for the government’s actions today,” NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge said in the upper house chamber on Tuesday.

“Ministers paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are refusing to turn up into the workplace and do their job, allegedly because of COVID safety,” he continued. “Meanwhile the government is expecting young workers to go and pack supermarket shelves.”

NSW Greens Justice spokesperson David Shoebridge
NSW Greens Justice spokesperson David Shoebridge

The Greens justice spokesperson outlined that if parliament was sitting, members would have been passing legislation to compensate workers around getting vaccinated, ensuring that the coming council elections are COVID safe and facilitating parliament’s ability to meet online in the future.

As well, parliamentarians would have been calling on the government to release documents around the health advice that it’s following – or not following – in regard to its opening up roadmap, along with documents relating to the grants scandal.

“A crisis requires more, not less, accountability,” Shoebridge underscored. “A crisis requires more, not less, work from parliamentarians. A crisis requires a minister, on a minister’s salary, to come and do their job in this place and answer questions.”

“That’s what a crisis requires.”

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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