Former NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole has escaped being dumped from Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s Cabinet and instead been handed two new portfolios.
The Bathurst MP dodged a bullet that many thought was heading straight for him and scooped up two new ministries, while relinquishing his local government role, being allocated Minister for Racing and Minister for Lands and Forestry.
His position as Local Government Minister would likely have become untenable after new Nationals Leader and Deputy NSW Premier John Barilaro came out publicly and said he would block some regional council amalgamations that are still hanging in the balance, something which would have clashed with Toole’s role as one of the main cheerleaders of forced council amalgamations in the former Baird government.
Two of the most hotly contested merger proposals still on the table are at least partly in Mr Toole’s Bathurst electorate: the proposed union of Bathurst and Oberon Councils and a merger between Blayney, Cabonne and Orange Councils.
Council mergers, along with the greyhound industry ban and hospital funding has been one of the main reasons cited for the Nationals shock loss to the Shooting Fishers and Farmers Party at the Orange by-election last year.
Now removed from the rough and tumble of local government mergers, Mr Toole’s new duties as Minister for Lands and Forestry will still bring him into contact with councils, most notably through the review of Crown Lands and roads and the infrastructure backlog.
Mr Toole will also need to oversee the new conditions for the greyhound racing industry following the overturned greyhound racing ban, especially in the light of recent reports alleging that dog owners are still doping their dogs.
Mr Toole, who was sworn into Cabinet today (Monday), told Fairfax local newspapers that his two new portfolios reflected the concerns of people in rural and regional areas.
“Forestry is quite big in rural areas, obviously, and also a strongly innovative industry and a big employer so it’s important that we keep that industry alive,” Mr Toole said.
He vowed to oppose any future greyhound racing ban in NSW, as that state’s Racing Minister.
“Racing is very big in Bathurst with harness racing, thoroughbred racing and greyhound racing so I think I was seen as an MP that had experience with all three,” he said.
Mr Toole said his three year stint as Local Government Minister had not all been about council mergers but had also been about improving the integrity and standards in local government and creating a State Borrowing Authority for councils.
And what of his replacement, the incoming Local Government Minister, former Attorney General Gabrielle Upton, who has also been handed the Environment and Heritage portfolios?
Ms Upton already has already had a rocky ride as far as NSW council amalgamations and the tension between her, local residents and her party goes.
The Vaucluse MP spoke at an anti-council merger rally in Double Bay in October 2015 where she encouraged residents to sign a petition against the merger of Woollahra, Randwick and Waverley Councils.
She told the anti-merger rally at the time: “I believe there is no perfect size for a council and what works here may not work for those that are three streets to our south. I do believe small can be effective.”
“Let me be clear about my position on this issue: my position is that Woollahra Council should not be merged with other councils if it has the community support and the numbers stack up.”
A few days later the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal ruled Woollahra Council unfit for the future and recommended it be merged with its neighbours.
Ms Upton got into hot water later in the year when Woollahra Mayor Toni Zeltzer arrived at Ms Upton’s office to hand her a petition against the merger, which Ms Upton refused to take, having apparently been warned not to by her party.
Local Government NSW President Keith Rhoades welcomed Berejiklian Government’s move to “refresh and reset” its relationship with the local government sector and said he was looking forward to working with the new minister.
“As Member for Vaucluse, Ms Upton has previously been prepared to speak out on behalf of her constituents despite personal political risk,” Mr Rhoades said. “That’s exactly what communities expect of their elected representatives – to speak up on their behalf and to act accordingly.
“I previously commended the Premier on her commitment to running a government which will take more time to listen the community, and I believe this appointment is a key step towards that.”
He called on the new Minister to abandon forced amalgamations everywhere and to restore local democracy.
“Stop the forced mergers and send those councils who were denied elections last year to the polls in September – let the people decide how they want to proceed,” Mr Rhoades said.
“The new Minister and the new Premier must be genuinely committed to a new day and a re-set and actually listening to what the people want is a pretty good start.”
Ms Berejiklian’s new, expanded Cabinet – 23 ministers in all – also includes two new portfolios: Minister for Counter Terrorism and Minister for WestConnex.
Major losers in the reshuffle were Education Minister Andrew Piccoli; Roads Minister Duncan Gay (who is set to quit Parliament ‘sooner rather than later’); Disability Minister John Ajaka – who got upper house president as a consolation prize and Health Minister Jillian Skinner, who reportedly refused an alternative Cabinet role and decided to leave politics altogether.
The winners included NSW Treasurer and former Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet, Attorney-General Mark Speakman; Roads Minister Melinda Pavey; Early Childhood Education and Aboriginal affairs minister Sarah Mitchell; Innovation and better regulation minister Matt Kean and Niall Blair, who now has the trade and industry portfolio.
List of NSW ministers:
Premier – Gladys Berejiklian MP – Premier
Deputy Premier, Minister for Regional New South Wales, Minister for Skills, and Minister for Small Business – (John) Giovanni Domenic Barilaro MP
Treasurer, and Minister for Industrial Relations – Dominic Francis Perrottet MP
Minister for Primary Industries, Minister for Regional Water, and Minister for Trade and Industry – Niall Mark Blair MLC
Minister for Resources, Minister for Energy and Utilities, Minister for the Arts, and Vice-President of the Executive Council- Donald Thomas Harwin MLC
Minister for Planning, Minister for Housing, and Special Minister of State – Anthony John Roberts MP
Minister for Transport and Infrastructure – Andrew James Constance MP
Minister for Health, and Minister for Medical Research – Bradley Ronald Hazzard MP
Minister for Education – Robert Gordon Stokes MP
Attorney General – Mark Raymond Speakman SC MP
Minister for Police, and Minister for Emergency Services – Troy Wayne Grant MP
Minister for Finance, Services and Property – Victor Michael Dominello MP
Minister for Family and Community Services, Minister for Social Housing, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault – Prudence Jane Goward MP
Minister for Lands and Forestry, and Minister for Racing – Paul Lawrence Toole MP
Minister for Counter Terrorism, Minister for Corrections, and Minister for Veterans Affairs – David Andrew Elliott MP
Minister for the Environment, Minister for Local Government, and Minister for Heritage – Gabrielle Cecilia Upton MP
Minister for Western Sydney, Minister for WestConnex, and Minister for Sport – Stuart Laurence Ayres MP
Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight – Melinda Jane Pavey MP
Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation – Matthew John Kean MP
Minister for Tourism and Major Events, and Assistant Minister for Skills – Adam John Marshall MP
Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Women, and Minister for Ageing – Tanya Davies MP
Minister for Early Childhood Education, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and Assistant Minister for Education – Sarah Mitchell MLC
Minister for Multiculturalism, and Minister for Disability Services – Raymond Craig Williams MP
Parliamentary office holders
President of the Legislative Council (elect) – John Ajaka MLC
Speaker of the Legislative Assembly – Shelley Elizabeth Hancock MP
Deputy President and Chair of Committees – Trevor John Khan MLC
Deputy Speaker – Thomas George MP
Assistant Speaker – Mr Andrew Raymond Gordon Fraser MP
Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council – Donald Thomas Harwin MLC
Leader of the House – Anthony John Roberts MP
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council – Niall Mark Blair MLC
Government Whip – Mr Christopher Stewart Patterson MP
Government Whip in the Legislative Council – Natasha Maclaren-Jones MLC