Premier Gladys Berejiklian was named the McKinnon Political Leader of the Year for 2019. She was recognised for in her role as Premier and for her outstanding leadership of New South Wales. This was reflected in her balanced and empathetic handling of reproductive health reform, a strong economic and budget position, and record infrastructure expenditure.
Ms Berejiklian presided 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.
Ms Berejiklian was a visible figure at the forefront of the NSW drought and bushfire season in 2019. 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 2019 Selection Panel noted that Ms Berejiklian worked tirelessly throughout the bushfire season, without a break, and provided calm and effective leadership during a time of crisis.
Ms Berejiklian was also commended for the manner in which she managed debate concerning the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019, which decriminalised abortion in NSW. Notably, 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spill by Liberal MPs opposing the bill, including Liberal MPs Tanya Davies, Matthew Mason-Cox and Lou Amato, was withdrawn after careful amendments were made to the bill itself.
Ms Berejilkian permitted a conscience vote on the Bill, leading to 19 of 35 Liberal MPs voting against it, despite this, she remained steadfast in her support of the Bill, a stand that was in opposition to her party’s longstanding position. The Selection Panel recognised this particularly skilled act of leadership in the context of Berejiklian’s conservative Armenian family background, noting this courageous stand as contributing to Berejiklian’s legacy as Premier.
The Selection Panel also acknowledged the ground broken by Ms Berejiklian as a woman in politics: she was the first elected female NSW Premier, the first female Liberal Premier, and the only conservative female leader of politics in Australia. As a woman from a non-Anglo migrant background, Ms 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.
The Selection Panel noted Ms 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.