GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN / GRADE: B+
What a year for the Premier. COVID star pupil — until she forgot to isolate and wasn’t anymore. NSW politics’ goody two shoes — until she was caught in a sex scandal with a crook and wasn’t anymore. Who can keep up?
Well, the opinion polls can’t quite because her colleagues are still pointing to a sky high approval rating as the reason for their ongoing support to keep her in the top job.
Much of Berejiklian’s future now rests on the findings of ICAC, although in a broader sense she has been steadily burning off all that political capital she had at the start of the year.
Scandals like document shredding in her office and her penchant for pork barrelling have only eroded her standing.
That’s not to say the year has been without successes.
The Premier led this state to be a world leader in COVID response.
She also gets big points for her brave call for a lyric change to the Australian national anthem to better recognise indigenous people, her stand out handling of the bushfire crisis and also her second-to-none work ethic.
Will this be the last report card for Gladys in the top job?
DAVID ELLIOTT / GRADE: B
The year started badly when he took holidays and then was forced to fly home from the UK while the state was burning. But it’s only been up from there.
Elliott has overseen the police force through one of the most UN*usual years on record — at a time when NSW people were asked to effectively hand over their liberties for the good of our health.
It was no small task, and Elliott rose to the occasion.
He also over saw the state’s policy response to the bushfires, bridging views from the left and right sides of the cabinet.
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JOHN BARILARO / GRADE: B+
Easily the gutsiest pollie of pack, Barilaro says what he means and won’t take a backwards step.
That became a problem when Berejiklian called his bluff and threatened to sack him this year over what is now known as koalagate.
But insofar as scandals go, going down fighting for the bush and your constituents possibly only made Barilaro more popular with parts of his base.
Like every year, he’s fought hard for bush funding.
He’s also been a crucial voice in the COVID crisis cabinet, ensuring NSW opens up and pushing Berejiklian where she needed to be pushed.
Points deducted for losing his licence but bonus points for opening up about his mental health struggles and showing leadership on the difficult issue.
DOMINIC PERROTTET/ GRADE. A-
NSW’s Treasurer spearheaded the opening of the NSW economy while shepherding the state through its first recession in 32 years, mapping a pathway back to surplus despite the economic hit of COVID.
Further, Perrottet has not wasted the crisis, using it as an opportunity to propose once-in-a-generation tax reform.
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and his children Harriet and Beatrice. Picture: Toby Zerna
He faced some choppy waters over icare, but managed to tackle the problem.
The frontrunner candidate for next premier, he has earned wide respect within his government and across the wider business community.
MARK SPEAKMAN / GRADE: F
It was shaping up as another year flying under the radar for the Attorney-General, until, that is, he decided it was his life’s work to let illicit drug users off with a warning.
In what was one of the biggest cabinet bungles of the year, Speakman failed to pre-empt an almighty brawl over his soft on drugs policy which, understandably, couldn’t quite get full support from his colleagues.
He was identified by some rusted-on moderates as a leadership contender earlier in the year, but has long been talked down as having zero political nous.
Sadly for Speakman he proved his critics right with the drugs bungle — a move that will have at the very least dented any leadership prospects.
DAMIEN TUDEHOPE / GRADE: B+
Singled out for a sweet $17,000 pay rise at a time when his government was freezing public sector pays, the Minister for Finance (not his own) really had a lot to live up to.
To be fair, the daft pay decision (read the room guys) falls at the feet of Berejiklian, with Tudehope simply the beneficiary.
Tudehope impressed his upper house colleagues this year and forged strong, workable relationships with a volatile cross bench who respected him.
This was no mean feat.
BRAD HAZZARD / GRADE: A-
At age 69, the Health Minister found himself with one of the toughest, most high pressure jobs in government.
There was the early Ruby Princess bungle but except for that he has not missed a beat and worked every bit as hard as Berejiklian or his health minister Kerry Chant under untold pressure.
Hazzard has also worked relentlessly behind the scenes with Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and played an unpublicised but crucial role in keeping the economy open.
Even despite the Ruby Princess, he has earned the respect of both his political colleagues and his health staff.
The worst thing to be said about Hazzard is he can veer into arrogance. But at his age and with the toughest job on ground, perhaps that can be excused.
There is some talk he may not run again and if he chooses to exit it will be on top after one of the best years of his career.
PAUL TOOLE / GRADE: B
Identified by his moderate Liberal colleagues as the man they’d like to run the Nationals, Toole found his moment in the spotlight this year when Barilaro was on leave.
Toole has endeared himself to the Premier, Matt Kean and others and became a pawn in attempts to distance Barilaro in koalagate.
But this is almost the kiss of death when it comes to loyal Nationals, still very much in the Barilaro camp.
Policy wise, Toole secured strong funding in the budget for regional roads, which earns him points.
DON HARWIN / GRADE: C
The informal minister for the A3 Motorway sought out the wide open space of his beach pad on the Central Coast when the Premier and Mick Fuller were urging the rest of us not to leave home or travel to the regions. It was a serious lapse in political judgment.
Harwin did the right thing and stepped aside but when he got off over technicalities in the law, the Premier promptly reinstated him. This, too, lacked political judgment, because the problem was that Harwin was seen to be doing the wrong thing and set a bad example.
Harwin’s stock is tied closely to his friendship with Berejiklian and closeness to the coterie of moderates, such as Matt Kean, in her government.
Indeed, he was never on the front bench in a decades-long career until his dear friend the Premier hand-picked him.
It is unlikely he would keep a senior position under a conservative Premier, and he loses more points because, even though he earns more in running the Upper House, everyone knows Damien Tudehope actually does the work.
GARETH WARD / GRADE: C
Caught naked, dazed and confused with neighbours claiming he “reeked of alcohol” in his Potts Point apartment block, it’s hard to see how the Families Minister can muster a passing grade this year.
In fact, his colleagues see him as the luckiest minister to ever walk Macquarie St, with his night of nude wandering coinciding with peak COVID crisis stations and being buried in the night’s news bulletins.
There had never been a better time to be a minister on the rocks.
“COVID has been kinder to no one than Gareth Ward,” is a common refrain. Portfolio wise, Ward has had a solid enough year, scandal free.
Politics wise, he’s a mean operator — one of the savviest in Macquarie St.
He can’t afford another personal scandal anytime soon and his rating will improve dramatically upon a scandal-free year.
GEOFF LEE / GRADE: D
Lee skated through a potential scandal, having shacked up with his pregnant (now former) staffer.
Lee has yet to properly find his feet as acting sports minister, with many senior figures still preferring his predecessor Ayres as a sounding board.
He has the important portfolios of veterans and TAFE, yet has not made a dramatic dent in either.
His colleagues say his contributions in cabinet and portfolio meetings are unimpressive.
MATT KEAN / GRADE: G FOR GREENIE
He’s earned himself the monikers of Green Kean and Captain Planet this year, with even Labor pointing out that the Minister for the environment is to their left on some issues.
It’s been a bold play for a Liberal government energy minister, who wandered a tad too far off reservation when he found himself publicly pontificating on all the reasons why Santos shouldn’t bother to invest in a massive gas project in the state.
Kean has one of the biggest, most important portfolios in this government and it’s on him to make sure we can keep the lights on when Liddell Power Station shuts down in 2023.
Kean has done the hard yards on energy policy, even bringing his opponents in cabinet into the tent.
His Achilles’ heel is his tendency to overstep and attack gas and coal in the process.
Just ask Bill Shorten how that works come election time.
ROB STOKES / GRADE: B+
Stokes was among the hardest workers in the early days of the pandemic.
We have him to thank for big planning decisions which he managed to make swiftly and agilely to ensure businesses could function at their best in the most dire of circumstances.
Stokes swung into action to ensure things like round-the-clock grocery operations, take-away cocktails and later on-street dining happened seamlessly to keep business afloat.
At the same time, he released a 20-year plan for Pyrmont which was the result of hard work and a big vision and a marked improvement after bungling the Ritz Carlton approval last year.
He later had a stumble with koalagate which blew up when it should have been better managed behind closed doors.
Overall, Stokes has rounded into a critical member of the government who makes the right political blows when he chooses to.
You have to wonder if he’s preparing for something bigger.
ANDREW CONSTANCE / GRADE: B-
It seems a lifetime ago that the transport minister declared his intention to run for the federal seat of Eden Monaro then promptly dropped out less than 24 hours later in a dummy spit in which he blamed revelations his friend John Barilaro had called him an expletive beginning with the letter C.
Berejiklian demoted Constance from leader of the house over the drama.
It’s a deeply unedifying chapter in what has otherwise been a strong year for the Transport Minister.
He stuck his neck out for bushfire victims battling his own government’s red tape in a move that annoyed his colleagues but showed he was made of tough political stuff.
SARAH MITCHELL / GRADE: C-
Holding one of the prized portfolios, Mitchell has kept education dramas off the front page of the papers, mostly.
However, there is view that unless you’re in a fight with the unions you aren’t being an effective minister.
Mitchell has made some attempts to reform the school sector but has a long way to go.
Extra points for managing NSW schools through the pandemic and ensuring the state had a strong learning-from-home plan.
But still, for a Coalition education minister, the rule is that if the Teachers’ Federation isn’t rioting, you aren’t doing your job.
MELINDA PAVEY / GRADE: C
She was given the water ministry, which is considered somewhat of a poison chalice in the Nationals.
She has been criticised by her colleagues for being too slow to act on removing water restrictions as dams rapidly filled post drought.
STUART AYRES/ GRADE: B+
Ayres has taken to the Tourism portfolio with gusto and put in a ton of work behind the scenes on helping COVID businesses.
Privately, some of the big venues identify Ayres as the man who has helped them most through the pandemic in terms of pushing for the removal of restrictions.
Then there’s the fact that the big sporting operators still turn to him for advice in favour of current sports Minister Geoff Lee.
So much so, he’s known around the traps as the “honorary minister for sport”.
VICTOR DOMINELLO / GRADE: B+
Known these days as the government’s nerd-in-chief, Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello has emerged as a surprise MVP (most valuable player) in COVID.
Dominello rolled up his sleeves in the pandemic to pioneer the state’s world-leading approach to sign-in technology and data gathering which has underpinned our success.
Traditionally, Dominello has been criticised for lacking political muscle but he has improved this year, taking a forward-leaning stand on wanting to open the economy.
More of this is encouraged. He is likely destined for bigger things in the next reshuffle.
ADAM MARSHALL / GRADE: B
He’s considered one of the best local members of the cabinet. Marshall had a big year last year with drought but has had a quieter time in 2020.
His foray into koala legislation didn’t work out very well, being at the heart of one of the major policy brawls in the government — but for this he shares responsibility with Stokes.
ANTHONY ROBERTS / GRADE: B
The conservative father of the parliament won hearts this year when he pulled out all stops to hand out toilet paper to those who were missing out.
In a pandemic there hasn’t been much focus on prisons or corrective services but he did keep the virus out of the prison system so points for that.
SHELLEY HANCOCK / GRADE: Z
Where’s Shelley? The Minister for Local Government has flown under the radar this year.
A strong local member and a strong advocate for her community in the bushfire and their aftermath, Hancock is yet to properly spread her wings on the state stage in such a way that a cabinet position affords.
Her contributions in cabinet are said to be limited.
KEVIN ANDERSON / GRADE: C+
The Better Regulations Minister has done some strong work on issues such as building cladding. However, rather than better regulation perhaps Anderson should focus on delivering less regulation to improve his score.
It’s also worth noting that it was Stuart Ayres who did the hard yards of bringing people back to the racetrack.
BRONNIE TAYLOR / GRADE: B
Solid policy work from the Minister for Mental Health.
Taylor fought tooth and nail behind the scenes to get the government to properly invest in school-based mental health nurses and she got a win in the budget.
She has made a hero out of a portfolio that traditionally has not received enough attention. She’s shown her colleagues she has what it takes for a more senior portfolio.
Bonus points for having the guts to go into bat for getting school formals back on track before the government was ready to make the move itself. Set for bigger things.
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