Gladys Berejiklian: Another Female Leader Setup to Fail

After the shock resignation of New South Wales Premier Mike Baird last Thursday it only took a day for a replacement to be decided. State Treasurer and Deputy Liberal leader Gladys Berejiklian will run unopposed at the Liberal party room meeting on Monday to elect a new leader. It has been revealed that a deal was stitched up six months ago, for Berejiklian to become Premier if Baird should retire with senior party powerbrokers reaching an agreement.

The fact that Berejiklian won’t face a contest, denying Liberal MPs a choice about who their next leader will be further entrenches the perception that the New South Wales Liberal Party is undemocratic. This was the view put forward by Sydney radio and television presenter Alan Jones who said of Berejiklian and the Liberal Party “[Gladys Berejiklian] is not across these issues in a million light years,’’ “It’s all being stitched up. The public won’t cop it. There is no democracy’’

The New South Wales Liberal Party preselection process has long been controlled by the factions and lobbyists denying the grassroots members a say. A recent motion to allow for party members to have a greater say in preselections was defeated at the last state council meeting.

The dominant faction has been the party’s left faction headed by former state President and now Federal MP Trent Zimmerman despite the fact that grassroots party members are largely conservative. This disenfranchisement has contributed to the growing movement to establish a new proper conservative party. The selection of Gladys Berejiklian will further alienate the conservative base of the Liberal Party. She is from the far left of the party being a supporter of same sex marriage, abortion, open immigration and multiculturalism.

Berejiklian’s selection has also led to the Liberals Coalition partner the Nationals which paid a steep price for supporting outgoing Premier Mike Baird’s proposed greyhound racing ban by losing the Orange by-election to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party. Their new party leader John Barilaro has vowed to take more proactive approach in the formation of government policy in the hope of clawing back its support in the bush.

Mike Baird’s decision to basically cut and run from the job in the face of plummeting approval ratings after presiding over a host of unpopular policies leaves Berejiklian with a difficult job ahead. Sydney ‘s lockout laws continue to damage the entertainment and hospitality industries of the city, forced council amalgamations are still a deeply unpopular policy and even after the backdown on the greyhound racing ban regional New South Wales is still deeply upset with the current government.

This difficult political situation Berejiklian finds herself in is a familiar one that female leaders have faced in Australian politics. When a male leader has been a failure in their position or is rolled by the party’s faceless men in Australia often a female has been installed as their successor. The faceless men (they are called men because that’s who they are) think that simply having a woman in the job for a change will somehow miraculously turn the government’s fortunes around. They believe that more women will vote for their party simply because the new leader is a woman.

The installation of a new leader facing a hostile electorate is often called the political hospital pass as the new leader is usually not able to turn things around is nearly always voted out at the next election. Female leaders have often been the ones given the hospital pass, it has been used by the Labor Party in five Australia states and federally, they had never had a state or federal female leader of the opposition until 2012 when Annastacia Palaszczuk took the job of opposition leader because no one else in the party room of seven wanted it. It would seem Labor’s faceless men believe a woman is not capable of winning an election from opposition.

State Liberal parties have had two female opposition leaders but neither was able to win an election. But at least they had not resorted to the gender politics of Labor by wheeling out of women when they are in a perilous political state. It seems that in New South Wales the Liberal Party is now going to try this failed political strategy.

Berejiklian was a good Treasurer as demonstrated by the strong state of the New South Wales economy and state finances, but the combined factors of inheriting unpopular government policies, being from the far left of the party and having the appearance of being installed by the factional bosses the most likely outcome here is that Berejiklian will end up the same way as other female political leaders in Australia. Yet again it looks like we won’t have a female head of government elected by the people based on their own merit.

  • Tim O’Hare

    Some good points. A few qualifiers to be made. Anna Bligh won an election in her own right (2009) after succeeding Peter Beattie in 2007. Julia Gillard achieved a draw in the 2010 election. Both Joan Kirner and Kristina Kenneally lost an election. So it is not fair to say that female leaders are ‘nearly always voted out at the next election’. Their track record isn’t overly different to men. You do raise a point about women often being brought in to pick up the pieces which I’d like to see developed further.