Premier Gladys Berejiklian: McKinnon Political Leader of the Year

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been named the McKinnon Political Leader of the Year for 2019 for her outstanding leadership of New South Wales reflected in a strong economic and budget position, record infrastructure expenditure, and her balanced and empathetic handling of reproductive health reform. 

Premier Berejiklian presides over one of the strongest economies in the nation. Her State Government concluded 2019 with a $700 million surplus, despite significant unanticipated expenditure of $2 billion on drought relief, $75 million on bushfire recovery, and billions of dollars on new infrastructure projects.

Premier Berejiklian has been a visible figure at the forefront of the NSW drought and bushfire season. She declared a pre-emptive state-wide emergency when catastrophic levels of danger were predicted in November 2019, and worked closely with the Commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service to prepare for a bushfire emergency. The Selection Panel noted that Premier Berejiklian worked tirelessly throughout the bushfire season, without a break, and provided calm and effective leadership during a time of crisis.

Premier Berejiklian was also commended for the manner in which she managed debate concerning the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019, which decriminalised abortion in New South Wales. Pertinently, a leadership spill by Liberal MPs opposing the bill, including Liberal MPs Tanya Davies, Matthew Mason-Cox and Lou Amato, was withdrawn after careful amendments were made to the bill itself. Premier Berejilkian permitted a conscience vote on the Bill, leading to 19 of 35 Liberal MPs voting against it—but despite this, she remained steadfast in her support of the Bill, taking a stand that was in opposition to her own party’s longstanding position. The Selection Panel viewed this as a particularly skilled act of leadership for a woman with an Armenian family background on the conservative side of politics, and one which will contribute to Berejiklian’s legacy as Premier.

The Selection Panel also acknowledged the ground broken by Premier Berejiklian as a woman in politics: she is the first elected female NSW Premier, the first female Liberal Premier, and the only female leader on the conservative side of politics in Australia.  As a woman from a non-Anglo migrant background, Berejiklian is an exemplar of political achievement not just for women, but for all people of diverse background. Members of the Selection Panel acknowledged that she was emblematic of an “inspiring leader”, one of the qualities outlined in the Prize’s terms of reference.

Selection Panel noted Premier Berejiklian’s reputation for honesty and impeccable good character and as having a demeanour and carriage that befits the office of Premier.  She was noted as having the breadth and depth of skills and policy experience that leaders of her calibre should aspire to attain.

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The McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership is a collaboration between the Susan McKinnon Foundation and the University of Melbourne.

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