13 Feb 19

The new parliamentary secretary for the Hunter, Catherine Cusack, is a friend and factional ally of Premier Gladys Berejiklian. PICTURE: Darren PatemanBY appointing Catherine Cusackas her government’s parliamentary secretary for the Hunter, new Premier Gladys Berejiklian has signalled she wants an experienced–and trustworthy –set of hands in the region.
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But she’s also handed the job to someone eager to get to work after years in the political cold.

In 2003when she entered the NSW Parliament MsCusack was one of a number of energeticnew faces in John Brogden’sopposition.

The election itself was a disappointment –the Liberal Party gained no net seats from Bob Carr’s Labor government, a result which saw them remain in opposition for two more terms.

But, among the new MPs were a core group who would go on to playkey roles in the O’Farrell, Baird and now Berejiklian governments.

On the right wasAnthony Roberts, the newly sworn in Planning Minister.

On the left was Transport Minister Andrew Constance, speaker Shelly Hancock and, most notably, MsBerejiklian herself.

In the upper house, Ms Cusack was another prominent Wet. Mr Brogden appointed her to his shadow frontbenchbefore she was even sworn into parliament, and she quickly made a name for herself taking on the Carr government over scandals at the Kariong Juvenile Justice Centre.

Unlike other high profile members of the class of 2003, though, she’s never been a minister.An early supporter of gay marriage who clashed with leading conservative figures like Tony Abbott, she has been willing to criticise her own government in the past; in 2011 when Barry O’Farrell slashed the state’s solar bonus scheme she accused him of causing “deliberate and disproportionate harm”.

In short, she has a reputation for being an outspoken moderate voice within the Liberal Party, and its possible that hasn’t helped her cause.

But there’s a bit more to it than that.

As shadow minister for the environment and climate change (when that was still a thing governments had to pretend to care about) she had beenexpected to take up that position when the Coalition returned to government in 2011.

However she was unexpectedly dumpedfor Robyn Parkerand has remained in the cold since.

The main theory for why is that Ms Cusack tried to stand up to the Shooter and Fishers Party over allowing hunting in National Parks. Mr O’Farrell needed their support on the cross bench, and so it goes that Ms Cusack was collateral damage.

In any case, five years later she finds herself not in cabinet but in the Hunter. It’s an interesting move. Ms Berejiklian and Ms Cusack are factional allies, and in her inaugural speech Ms Cusack called MsBerejiklian an “outstanding woman” who she counted as a friend.

Why would the Premier need a friend and factional head kicker up here?

Well, it’s just a theory, but another factional chieftain from the right of the party has recently returned to the fold after a couple of years in exile.

Mike Gallacher –who, remember, once held huge influence over the Liberal Party in the Hunterand still has plenty of friends here –returned to the partyroom uponMike Baird’s resignation, and from all accounts plans to stay there.

It’s not so outlandish to think the new Premier might want her ownmoderate influence to act as a counterbalance.

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