From the “gold standard” to an explosive relationship: the rise and fall of Gladys Berejiklian | Gladys Berejiklian

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Gladys Berejiklian’s resignation is the latest in a long line of NSW premiers who fell early – but his political career was far from common in Australian politics.

Her restrained personality and cautious approach generated broad support across the electorate, which saw her become the first woman elected as NSW premier in a poll. In the first 18 months of the pandemic, she was praised for balancing the freedoms and restrictions of Covid.

Throughout Delta’s outbreak, she has enjoyed worship from some, who were shocked and saddened when revelations of a corruption probe sank her post as prime minister on Friday.

Early life

Born in Sydney in 1970 to Armenian parents – a nurse and a welder – Berejiklian’s family culture shaped her childhood and her outlook on life.

Her grandparents were orphaned during the Armenian genocide and both parents lived as refugees in the Middle East, Syria and Jerusalem, before moving to Australia where they met.

Armenian was the first language of Berejiklian. She learned English at the age of five when she started school.

While growing up in Ryde with two sisters, Mary and Rita, she only found out later in her childhood that she was a twin – she had not been told her sister was stillborn.

“It’s luck that I got out first. Imagine if you had a twin; you got out first, they didn’t succeed ”, Berejiklian said to the Australian in 2019. “I feel like I have to justify my existence by making sacrifices. So I don’t care if I’m not happy all the time. I feel like I have to work hard.

Gladys Berejiklian celebrates with her parents and sisters on election night in 2019. Photograph: Dean Lewins / AAP

Her mother, Arsha, said Gladys hasn’t missed a day of school since kindergarten – even managing to dodge the chickenpox that kept her sisters from coming home from school.

It was this self-proclaimed reputation for “happiness-happiness” that made his first foray into politics a success. In high school, she wrote to local MPs and organized a student protest against the government’s plan to close her school.

She was later sent by her high school to Canberra to observe the Federal Parliament, a turning point that galvanized her politically – she returned with the dream of becoming prime minister. She joined the Young Liberals, studied arts and international studies at the University of Sydney, and then became president of the youth political movement.

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She approached Peter Collins, a former Liberal opposition leader, for a job and worked with him before becoming an executive at the Commonwealth Bank in 1998.

Berejiklian remained close to her family and when she left her parents’ home, aged 29, it was for a unit in Willoughby, still on Sydney’s North Shore and a center of the Armenian community.

She succeeded Collins in becoming MP for Willoughby in the 2003 state election, winning just 144 votes, but continued to secure the seat, securing 71% of both parties’ preferred vote in 2019.

Political career

Berejiklian’s first major role was transport minister in 2011, having held the shadow portfolio while in opposition.

As Minister, she pushed forward an ambitious range of infrastructure projects, including the CBD and Eastern Suburbs tram line, the Northwest Metro, as well as the WestConnex and NorthConnex roads and a second port tunnel.

She pioneered Sydney’s Opal card system for public transport fares and served as a minister when the government privatized the city’s ferries.

From 2015, Berejiklian served as treasurer of New South Wales and was responsible for a controversial $ 30 billion sale of state power assets, as she tried to turn around what had become a sluggish economy by encouraging investment.

In 2017, Berejiklian succeeded Mike Baird as prime minister after stepping down for family reasons following a backflip on the greyhound racing ban.

As Prime Minister, she oversaw a series of controversial government decisions, including the move of the Powerhouse Museum, which was ultimately canceled, and the Sydney Opera House’s wish not to project any publicity for the horse racing in the ‘Everest on its sails.

She pushed for the demolition of two relatively new football stadiums in Sydney – continuing work days before the 2019 election despite last-minute court challenges.

In the early years of her tenure, Berejiklian – who is part of the moderate faction within the Liberal Party – established herself as a sane and cautious leader.

However, her reluctance to lift Sydney’s controversial alcohol lockdown laws she inherited has revealed a key part of her character. She was socially conservative, but with a decidedly pro-business attitude, the latter usually losing out in conflict.

Gladys Berejiklian with Transport Minister Andrew Constance in the M4 WestConnex tunnels in 2019
Gladys Berejiklian with Transport Minister Andrew Constance in the M4 WestConnex tunnels in 2019. Photograph: Dylan Coker / AAP

This attitude was evident in his position during the pill test debate. In response to large numbers of young people dying from illicit drugs, the state coroner recommended in 2019 to introduce pill testing at music festivals. Berejiklian challenged doctors and publicans for the police’s harsh approach to drugs.

But then, months after winning the 2019 state election on a ‘Let’s get it done NSW’ slogan – the Liberal Party lost only one seat inside Sydney – she backed pro legislation. -abortion while allowing a conscience vote on the issue, which almost led to an outpouring against it by conservative members of the coalition government.

Despite the failures recognized during the Ruby Princess debacle in early 2020, Berejiklian’s popularity has grown throughout the Covid pandemic as NSW’s ‘standard’ contact tracing regime has enabled her to monitor outbreaks potential while largely avoiding the more severe blockages encountered in other states.

At the end of 2020, she fought off the threat of Nationals leader John Barilaro to quit the Coalition because of koala protection laws.

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Then came the explosive revelation of his relationship with Daryl McGuire which would ultimately lead to his downfall. She survived the scandal at the time even though it would have ended most of the prime minister’s terms.

As the federal government crippled the vaccine rollout, the relevant state health system of NSW stepped in to fill in the gaps. Berejiklian has been criticized for waiting to lock down to contain Delta’s outbreak which began in mid-June 2021, and then stood firm against MPs who wanted to lift the restrictions.

She was looked down upon for announcing the end of daily press conferences after unveiling her roadmap for reopening – but there were ultimately only a few days that an official failed to face the media.

She continued an ambitious vaccination campaign that promised to deliver freedoms to residents of New South Wales ahead of other states.

Personality

Berejiklian has sometimes taken positions of principle against the federal coalition – including on the failed deployment of the vaccine. She has spoken at community events about the reluctance of the Federal Liberal Party to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

In addition to the stoushs within her own party, she didn’t get along with shock Alan Jones – which could be difficult given her influence in NSW. Jones warned her once the head was “in a noose” on government mining policy.

Throughout his time in politics, Berejiklian’s manner reflected his style of cautious leadership. However, when revelations about her relationship with McGuire surfaced, public debate has often focused on her poor choice of boyfriend. For someone who had seemed to struggle to acknowledge that she had a personal life, the scandal made her dearer to some in New South Wales.

Gladys Berejiklian briefed by Rural Fire Department Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons during 2019 bushfire crisis
Gladys Berejiklian is briefed by Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons during the 2019 bushfire crisis. Photograph: Joel Carrett / AAP

Berejiklian revealed in late June that she was dating prominent Sydney lawyer Arthur Moses – who had represented her at Icac hearings in 2020 – via an Instagram post from her sister.

Berejiklian’s appreciation has multiplied on social media during the pandemic, with an online community devoted to artwork created by fans of the Prime Minister going viral. Whenever she faced her daily Covid update, more TikTok artwork and tributes appeared.

The Prime Minister also posted a bizarre photo of herself in NSW Blues outfit facing the camera ahead of a State of Origin game this year – sparking an onslaught of memes.

The press was aware of Berejiklian’s popularity with other state prime ministers during the pandemic. She posed for a photo with the Australian Financial Review in April for a cover story on “The Woman Who Saved Australia”.

In a cruel irony, Berejiklian also made the front page of AFR’s magazine “Power” in NSW, published Friday hours before his resignation.

Messages of support and flowers laid in front of Gladys Berejiklian's election office in Northbridge
Messages of support and flowers left in front of Gladys Berejiklian’s electoral office after her resignation. Photography: Elias Visontay / The Guardian

In the end, Berejiklian’s exit from politics was greeted with sadness in some quarters – despite numerous setbacks and political controversies, including the shredding of documents by his office – due to his personal popularity. It was also felt that she had created stability during the pandemic.

Within hours of his announcement, voters posted signs of support on the front of his election office in Northbridge. “Long live Gladys,” said one of them.

In his last speech as Prime Minister, Berejiklian said: “Please know that every day I gave my all and worked as hard as possible to create a better future for our state and its people. residents.


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