Who will be the next NSW premier? Dominic Perrottet and Rob Stokes lead field of contenders

 Michael McGowan 1 day agoLike|12Thousands in Brazil protest Bolsonaro, seek his impeachmentSpace exploration: What does the future hold?Composite: Joel Carrett/ Bianca de Marchi/AAP© Provided by The Guardian Composite: Joel Carrett/ Bianca de Marchi/AAP

The New South Wales treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, and the planning minister, Rob Stokes, have emerged as the frontrunners to succeed Gladys Berejiklian as premier after her shock resignation on Friday.

But they will probably face a crowded field of contenders seeking to become the state’s fourth leader since the Liberal party won government a decade ago.

Ahead of a party room meeting to decide the leadership slated for Tuesday, four of Berejiklian’s ministers – Stokes, Perrottet, the transport minister, Andrew Constance, and the tourism minister, Stuart Ayres – were all immediately being touted as possible candidates.

Whoever takes the job is likely to face a challenging entry to leadership, with NSW preparing to emerge from three months of a Covid-19 lockdown which has placed significant strain on the state’s economy and prompted questions about the health system’s capacity to handle a likely surge in cases.Dominic Perrottet and Rob Stokes are frontrunners to become premier of NSW following the shock resignation of Gladys Berejiklian.© Composite: Joel Carrett/ Bianca de Marchi/AAP Dominic Perrottet and Rob Stokes are frontrunners to become premier of NSW following the shock resignation of Gladys Berejiklian.

Related: NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian resigns after Icac announces investigation

They will also be faced with questions about whether Berejiklian’s own personal popularity will translate to a new leader. The outgoing premier acknowledged as much as she announced her resignation on Friday, saying it “could not happen at a worse time”.

“But the timing is completely outside of my control as the Icac has chosen to take this action during the most challenging weeks of the most challenging times in the history of NSW,” she said.

Dominic Perrottet

NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP© Provided by The Guardian NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

The state’s treasurer has been cultivating a high profile for months, as whispers increased that Berejiklian could be forced out due to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the Icac investigations.

Perrottet has been seen as the heir apparent to Berejiklian, and had reportedly firmed up his chances via a factional deal with moderate Matt Kean which would have given him support across the party.

Whether that deal remains in place is unclear, though, and some sources suggested on Friday that his chances of assuming the leadership could be harmed by soft-right MPs unhappy with his faction’s role in attempting to block a group of Sydney councillors in the next local elections.

A committed Catholic and member of the party’s conservative wing, who also opposed abortion decriminalisation, the Epping MP has sought to soften his image by pushing a number of popular measures during the pandemic including challenging the federal government to reintroduce jobkeeper payments during Sydney’s second wave Covid outbreak.

On Friday he released a statement saying that “over the coming days I will be talking to my family and colleagues about how I can best serve the people of NSW to continue to achieve these aims”.

Rob Stokes

Minister for planning and public spaces Rob Stokes. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP© Provided by The Guardian Minister for planning and public spaces Rob Stokes. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

The MP for the ultra-safe northern beaches seat of Pittwater since 2007, Stokes had a PhD in law and once worked for the former NSW Liberal party leader John Brogden.

A former education and environment minister, Stokes has held the planning portfolio twice; first between 2015 and 2017, and again from 2019. Long seen as a rising star in the party, Stokes is factionally unaligned but could draw support from conservatives and moderates.

A committed Christian, he opposed a bill that decriminalised abortion in the state in 2019 but has also proven to have progressive instincts on other prominent issues.

In 2016 he broke with federal colleagues to argue that negative gearing rules should change to help housing affordability in Sydney, and earlier this year he clashed with NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro over koala planning laws.

This week Stokes also refused to declare the Warragamba Dam wall-raising a critical state project because it impacts on a World Heritage area.

Had he made the designation, the project would have been given effective immunity from legal and regulatory challenges, and his decision seemed to suggest simmering divisions within the party over a policy that has been slammed by environment groups.

Andrew Constance

NSW minister for transport and roads Andrew Constance. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP© Provided by The Guardian NSW minister for transport and roads Andrew Constance. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

A leading moderate, the Bega MP, whose nickname is Bega, has endured a dramatic two years.

After he was forced to defend his own home during the bushfire crisis of 2019/20, Constance announced that he would quit politics once the recovery was complete.

He then changed his mind, announcing he would run for the federal seat of Eden-Monaro in a byelection, before withdrawing again only a few days later after, he said, reading a story in the Daily Telegraph in which it was revealed his colleague, the Nationals leader John Barilaro, who also had designs on the seat, had reportedly called him a “cunt” in private conversations (Barilaro later apologised).

He has also been a high-profile supporter of a number of socially liberal policies. This week he became the first Liberal minister to speak publicly in support of a conscience vote on an upcoming voluntary assisted dying bill, and has been vocal in pushing the Morrison government to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles in Australia.

Constance has been an MP since 2003 and the transport minister since 2015. In that time the NSW government has managed to complete a number of high-profile transport projects including the NorthConnex and WestConnex road projects and the Sydney and Newcastle light rail.

In 2018 it was revealed that a public contest to choose the name of a new Sydney ferry had been co-opted by the minister.

At the time the NSW government announced that the name “Ferry McFerryface” – a reference to the UK’s infamous Boaty McBoatface – had been chosen by an overwhelming number of voters as part of a $100,000 campaign to pick the names of six new ferries.

But a freedom of information request revealed the real winning response, with more than 2,000 votes, was to name the ferry after the founder of Clean Up Australia and 1994 Australian of the Year, Ian Kiernan.

Stuart Ayres

NSW minister for western Sydney Stuart Ayres. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP© Provided by The Guardian NSW minister for western Sydney Stuart Ayres. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

A moderate faction heavyweight, Ayres, the partner of foreign affairs minister Marise Payne, is still likely an outsider given a lower public profile than his potential rivals.

A spokeswoman for Ayres couldn’t confirm if the minister for investment, tourism, jobs and western Sydney planned on nominating on Friday, but if he did, it would probably be as the beneficiary of a factional deal between rightwing forces unhappy with Perrottet and his own moderate allies.

Ayres was a supporter of the abortion decriminalisation bill – aping Bill Clinton’s line that it should be “safe, legal and rare” – but has found himself on the other side of Stokes on the Warragamba Dam raising proposal, becoming the face of the controversial plan as minister for western Sydney.

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