Deputy New South Wales Premier John Barilaro has followed his leader by resigning from politics.
Barilaro's departure will trigger a by-election in Monaro, adding to the other two by-elections scheduled for Berejiklian’s seat in Willoughby and Constance’s seat in Bega.
During the course of his leadership, Barilaro has been a firm supporter of vaccine passports for regional New South Wales, frequently speaking in support of the roadmap which takes away freedoms from Australians who refuse to get vaccinated.
“The message to the unvaccinated is that you will not achieve any further freedom unless you get vaccinated,” said Barilaro, at the end of September.
“And the further and final message to regional New South Wales… The parts of New South Wales that are currently open – the 70% roadmap does apply to the whole state. So, there will be individuals in regional New South Wales who choose not to be vaccinated who will lose their freedoms on the 11th of October.”
Barilaro has stepped down after a difficult few years in the role as leader of the Nationals in New South Wales. He has indicated that an alleged ‘vile and racist’ attack on social media contributed to his decision to leave politics.
“A young boy of migrant parents, I grew up, I understood what racism was – was called many of those names – I didn’t think in 2021 that will continue,” said Barilaro, during the press conference on Monday.
Barilaro will continue to defend himself in court as a private citizen. He is currently suing comedian ‘FriendlyJordies’ (Jordan Shanks) over the contents of two videos which Barilaro alleges taint his reputation.
“That has been a big reason for the announcement, along with the opportunity that has now opened, that maybe now is the refresh.”
Barilaro previously took a four-week mental health break after ten days of intense criticism surrounding the state’s Koala protection program which resulted in #KoalaKiller trending for over a week. The incident caused significant division between the Liberals and Nationals, with Berejiklian insisting that she would swear in a new ministry if members of the National Party did not back down.
Senior Liberals were widely reported to have called the incident ‘an act of political bastardry’, but in this case, Barilaro had the support of regional New South Wales. No one sought to replace Barilaro during his leave.
Barilaro will also be remembered for seeking to cancel the Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks to ‘respect’ regional New South Wales and the Rural Fire Service during the 2019 bushfire crisis. The suggestion caused outrage among those communities, who look forward to the fireworks. The decision was quickly overruled.
“Let’s not have two classes of citizens,” Barilaro said at the time.
He tried again in 2020, arguing that it was too risky to draw people down to the harbour in the middle of a pandemic.
“How can you attract one million people to the harbour shores and do it in a safe way?” Barilaro told Nine’s Today program.
The 2020 New Year’s Eve fireworks eventually went ahead with the show reduced to one seven-minute display which people were told to watch from home.
The most difficult test of Barilaro’s deputy premiership has been the Covid pandemic and its associated health orders.
Barilaro has faced opposition from his voter base after comments were made in early September that businesses who refuse to enforce vaccine passports or chose to employ staff that were not double-jabbed would be subject to ‘significant fines’.
In Barilaro’s heartland of regional New South Wales, the response was critical. Shopkeepers in country areas exist in tight-knit communities and did not wish to turn away their friends and family. An online movement of businesses that refuse to discriminate based on vaccine passports quickly popped up on Facebook.
Barilaro also refrained from making a comment to the press when his daughter was fined a thousand dollars for breaking Covid public health orders in July of 2021.
“Private citizens are entitled to their privacy —there is nothing here in relation to the public, so I have no comment to make. I’ll leave it at that, let’s move onto questions in relation to the pandemic,” said Barilaro to Sky News.
The New South Wales roadmap out of Covid for regional areas – also know as the ‘Blueprint for Freedom’ – was announced by Barilaro. By September 27, travel between metropolitan areas and regional areas had already been pushed back from 70% vaccination to 80%.
“This about giving the ones that have gone and got vaccinated the opportunity to have a level of freedom … we’ve got to reboot the economy and this is the safest way. If they don’t want to do it that’s fine, you might have to wait another three to four weeks after that when we get to 80% and above,” said Barilaro to 2GB.
“I apologise for that but it will only be a three to four weeks of short inconvenience. According to the national road map and to the Doherty Institute report, we’ll go and then lift further restriction including for the unvaccinated.”
Barilaro’s promise, which came in the wake of community anger, was quickly rebuffed by Berejiklian who said, “I don’t want people to think they can sit back and let everybody else do the hard work (getting vaccinated).”
The roadmap that was eventually formalised by the state has freedom for all, including the unvaccinated, returned on December 1.
With Gladys Berejiklian and John Barilaro gone, the question now shifts to whether assumed leader Dominic Perrottet will loosen restrictions and make good on his promise not to enforce medical apartheid in New South Wales.
Perrottet has said that once everyone in New South Wales has been offered the Covid vaccine, the state should open for everyone, regardless of vaccine status.
“I want to see more unity and not a two-tiered society. It’s not the government’s role to provide freedom,” said Perrottet to 2GB.
If that is the case, people may see their freedoms restored much sooner.