NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole must feel like a man condemned as State Health Minister Jillian Skinner retires from politics today (Friday), ahead of next week’s cabinet reshuffle.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed that while she was not about to dump the veteran North Shore MP from her Cabinet she would have lost her Health portfolio, something that Ms Skinner had vowed would trigger her resignation from politics altogether.
“I made it clear to her she would be welcome on the team but obviously we had a difference of opinion as to what that job should be,” Ms Berejiklian said, soon after Ms Skinner announced her retirement.
“I offered her a position on the team moving forward but she obviously had a position that she wanted to take and I respect that decision.”
Keeping Health was becoming increasingly untenable for the Minister as each new wave of scandal hit: chemotherapy underdosing in hospitals; a newborn dead and another left with permanent brain damage after a hospital error and a number of hospitals under pressure with long waits in emergency departments and long elective surgery waiting lists.
Ms Skinner said in a statement announcing her retirement: “I am naturally sad to be leaving the portfolio I love. However, a new chapter beckons and I am looking forward to the challenges of life outside politics.”
She spent eight years as Shadow NSW Health Minister before winning the top job in April 2011 and 22 years in Parliament.
Her resignation means that there will now be two by-elections: Ms Skinner’s Sydney seat of North Shore and former Premier Mike Baird’s Sydney seat of Manly.
Ms Skinner’s electorate takes in Mosman and parts of Lane Cove, Willoughby and North Sydney: long a hot bed of resistance against forced council amalgamations.
Mr Baird’s seat also includes the new Northern Beaches Council, which caused fierce protests when it was created. Both seats have a history of electing independent MPs too.
Meanwhile, NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole, who is also Nationals MP for Bathurst, must be feeling like a dead man walking and is likely to be ejected from Cabinet in the reshuffle.
Mr Toole has been one of the key players driving forced council mergers in the state. Unfortunately for him, new Nationals Leader and Deputy NSW Premier John Barilaro has made blocking a select number of regional council mergers his cause celebre.
NSW Labour Leader Luke Foley told Sky News on Sunday last week that it was ironic Mr Toole had spearheaded forced council mergers while his new leader was tryingto stop them.
“(Mr Toole) surely can have no future in Gladys Berejiklian’s cabinet, given his own leader has dumped the policy he’s been implementing for the last 12 months,” Mr Foley said.
Community groups opposing council mergers have also called for Mr Toole’s head on a plate and the peak body for NSW local councils, Local Government NSW (LGNSW), has made it displeasure known with the Local Government Minister over the years, coming to a head when mayors and councillors were sacked last year.
LGNSW has been contacted for comment.
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