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Conservative poster-boy becomes state's youngest-ever leader

Politics

Dominic Perrottet has built a name for himself as a conservative poster-boy and economic reformer but will now be written into the history books as the youngest NSW premier in the state’s 165 year history.

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Perrottet – from the party’s right faction – on Tuesday defeated moderate Rob Stokes in an overwhelming party room vote to replace Gladys Berejiklian as the state’s Liberal Party leader and premier.

In a deal struck after factional wrangling, Penrith MP Stuart Ayres was appointed deputy leader, while moderate faction powerbroker and Environment Minister Matt Kean will be promoted to treasurer.

Berejiklian quit on Friday after the state’s corruption watchdog disclosed she was under investigation for potential breaches of public trust given her secret five-year relationship with former MP Daryl Maguire.

Turning 39 only a fortnight ago, Perrottet is the youngest person to secure the state’s top job.

Long touted as the ‘heir apparent’ to Berejiklian, the 39-5 victory over Rob Stokes completes the devout Catholic’s meteoric rise to the top – just a decade after he became an MP.

Born to a World Bank economist and raised alongside 12 siblings in West Pennant Hills, Perrottet began to make his mark in NSW politics early.

By the age of 22, he was appointed president of the NSW Young Liberals, following in the footsteps of an eminent class of politicians that includes Berejiklian, former prime minister John Howard and state party president Philip Ruddock.

Then came a stint on the NSW Liberal Party executive between 2008 and 2011, when Perrottet, then 28, first set foot in the Legislative Assembly as the member for Castle Hill.

Since then Perrottet has bounced around three electorates in as many terms – Castle Hill, Hawkesbury and Epping – and served as minister for finance and industrial relations before becoming treasurer and deputy party leader in 2017.

In that time the father of six has managed to keep his nose mostly clean.

As treasurer he has argued for national GST reform and has pushed to phase out stamp duty – which netted the government $9.3 billion in the last financial year – in favour of an annual property tax.

But he clashed with Prime Minister Scott Morrison over federal financial support for shut down businesses during the current COVID-19 lockdown.

As the minister responsible for the state’s scandal-ridden worker’s compensation insurer icare, Perrottet came under fire after the agency underpaid thousands of injured workers by up to $80 million.

A member of the NSW government’s COVID-19 crisis cabinet, he was back in the headlines in July after reports emerged that he opposed the extension of the Greater Sydney lockdown, arguing the dire economic impacts meant it was time to learn to live with the virus.

The outbreak has now killed more than 350 people.

His personal views on social issues have also drawn ire from some quarters.

He voted against the decriminalisation of abortion in NSW, opposed the legalisation of same-sex marriage, has railed against “throwing money” at welfare and in 2016 called Donald Trump’s election as US President “a victory for people who have been taken for granted by the elites”.

In his first press conference as premier-elect, Perrottet called some of the criticism of his beliefs “unfounded”, saying said he was proud of his Christian faith.

“Does that in any way take away from my capacity to serve as premier?”

“I do not think so, and I think it is a sad thing that some people do,” he said.

He brushed off a suggestion he was the state’s most conservative premier since WWII and promised to govern for everyone in NSW – regardless of their beliefs.

“A fundamental premise of my values is respect and dignity for everyone. I think that has been the way that I’ve conducted myself in public life.”

“I have the deep honour and privilege to be here today, to serve the people of our state, (and) I will serve every single one of you.”

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