As Dominic Perrottet took over the reins of the NSW Liberal Nationals government on 5 October, it was understood that the new premier was going to shift the decade-long conservative governance in this state a trifle further to the right… or perhaps even a sprightly leap in that direction.
The Facebook message that the current premier posted to his account as Donald Trump took out the 2016 US presidential election made this easy to discern.
Within it, Perrottet acknowledged his strong affiliation with neoliberal ideology via a checklist of concerns he felt Trump’s victory affirmed.
According the new premier, this was a win for the “silent majority”, whose values are under threat. The want to wind back antidiscrimination laws, the denial of human-caused climate change, stronger borders, the rejection of same-sex marriage, and nationalist sentiment are all cited in the post.
“These are mainstream values that people should be free to articulate without fear of ridicule or persecution by the Left,” Perrottet asserted. “It’s time for a new political conversation that reflects the concerns of everyday people. It’s time for a conservative spring.”
“It’s also an economic crisis,” Perrottet said as he referred to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, just after he took office.
The new premier was beginning to shift his government’s pandemic priority towards the importance of keeping the “free” market afloat, rather than the focus on state-imposed preventative measures to the virus.
Key proponent of the neoliberalism former UK PM Margaret Thatcher once remarked, “there’s no such thing as society”, with the implication being there are only individuals and their families, who are responsible for themselves, so any public health measures are illegitimate political interventions.
This is the ideology at play while Perrottet has been refraining from any consideration of reapplying some of the most basic public health measures that were in place, as the unexpected onset of the Omicron variant has led to a marked spike in COVID cases in the lead up to Christmas.
Medical associations have been calling on a return to mask mandates and QR check-ins, which are fairly unobtrusive measures, especially in terms of keeping the economy going.
Indeed, there have been no loud calls for a return to broadly intrusive lockdowns.
Following the national cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the NSW premier announced that check-ins for businesses will be rolled out again.
However, he refused to reinstate mask mandates, in favour of personal responsibility, which is an argument that was put forth by opponents to mandatory seat belts.
And this is just the start of it, under Perrottet’s governance the constituency can expect the widespread selloff of any state assets that continue to exist – as was seen over his time as treasurer – in order to prop up the budget, with an eye currently turned towards state rail assets.
Re-Christianising public life
Perrottet’s political conservatism is not the only aspect of his outlook that’s raised concerns about which direction he’s steering the state in, as the new premier is a devout Catholic, having been raised as an adherent of the ultraconservative Opus Dei.
In her analysis of the hard-right turn taken in western politics, US political theorist Wendy Brown explains that neoliberal ideology is founded upon the coupling of the free market with traditional values, so as to guarantee the moral order, as social justice is another political imposition.
Brown’s recent work In the Ruins of Neoliberalism outlines that this agenda includes an attempt to re-Christianise public life, with an obvious example of this in the Australian setting being the push to enact religious freedoms laws at the federal level, as well as in this state.
The Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 is currently under parliamentary review.
A pet project of Pentecostal PM Scott Morrison, this legislation seeks to establish a law that permits “statements of belief” to be made that would currently be classed as discriminatory, and therefore illegal, if the comment is in line with a person’s faith doctrine.
And Perrottet’s attorney general Mark Speakman already indicated back in September, that the state government is waiting for the progress of Morrison’s bill before passing similar laws that would see the right to be a bigot in the name of one’s faith passed in this state.