Flat White

The bald and the bonkers

5 October 2021

2:00 PM

5 October 2021

2:00 PM

How quickly we forget. 

Gladys Berejiklian had her ‘sliding doors’ moment with Matt Kean a year into her premiership. 

Kean – a politically dangerous potential usurper – made a catastrophic error in full view of the public. Better still, he managed it entirely on his own merits. 

No one tricked, trapped, baited, orchestrated, or coerced him into embarrassment. It was simply the gift of a self-made catastrophe. 

For those who have bleached the event from memory, allow me to re-scar you. 

The political episode began in 2017. To celebrate surviving a year as premier without any fatal wounds, Berejiklian performed a spring clean of her cabinet which resulted in Kean’s appointment as Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation. 

At the time, Matt Kean was in an on-and-off relationship with a Malcolm (the bonking ban) Turnbull media adviser. While she was away with her family on a Christmas break, Kean was exchanging in sordid txt messages with Miranda MP, Eleni Petinos. 

“Miss me huh?” asked Petinos. 

“Yep, really need to f**k you,” replied Kean. 

“Just got your Christmas card – you’re absolutely gorgeous – love you xx,” added Petinos, a few days later, confirming that Kean’s earlier indiscretion wasn’t a random shot in the dark. 

His spurned lover exposed Kean on Instagram (the irony of a media adviser using social media to out a cheating boyfriend in charge of ‘better regulation’ is not lost).

In the world of #metoo, this misstep by Kean could have easily been a fatal stumble onto his own sword. 

Thankfully for all involved, politics has never been about morality – it’s about factional aspiration – and Kean was considered a rising star of the Photios project. A lot of effort had been poured into his existence and he enjoyed the insurance policy of belonging to the same faction as the leader of the party. 

Kean has often been thought of as a political anomaly. He is a Green in everything but name with environmental and energy policies that contradict the electorate. Gladys Berejiklian – who is wrongly assumed to be a conservative – didn’t tolerate Kean’s existence, she supported it.  

Michael Photios is a Liberal powerbroker long considered by many to be the most powerful kingmaker in New South Wales politics. He resigned from his official position as head of the party’s left faction in 2017 to ‘shut down attacks’ regarding his influence over Berejiklian. 

“The powerbrokers and lobbyists who pull the strings in the NSW Liberal party have decided Gladys Berejiklian will be their Premier,” said then-Opposition Leader Luke Foley. 

Berejiklian has been a devout member of this faction for a long time, firmly pinning her as a left-wing moderate, not a conservative. Photios has long been credited with helping the moderate faction rise from obscurity in the 1980s to the dominant movement placing premiers and prime ministers into power. 

The Sydney Morning Herald reported comments from Liberal sources at the time which implied Photios did not wish to become the story.

“He’s taken a decision to remove the perception, real or otherwise, of his influence around the government,” said one. 

“There’s no doubt he’ll still be the puppet master…” added another. 

While factional pressure no doubt played a role in Kean’s survival, the decision ultimately rested with the Premier. Berejiklian – who was in Washington at the time with Keage’s boss, Malcolm Turnbull – insisted that she would not sack Kean over the incident. 

“What I’ve read this morning is extremely disappointing,” Berejiklian said, before allowing Kean to wriggle off the hook. 

As Kean’s green politics became more extreme and criticism gathered like a cloud of smog around him, Berejiklian continued to offer her support.

As state treasurer, he will be in reach of the crown. If he’s smart, Kean will stay out of the Covid storm and allow Perrottet to weather the next year, ensuring that his final rise to power happens on a clean slate. 

Berejiklian is now gone.

Kean? His adventures are only just beginning and I dare say we’ll need a longer word count to cover them. 

Alexandra Marshall is an independent writer. This is an edited version of a piece available at her blog. If you would like to support Alexandra’s work, shout her a coffee over at Ko-Fi.

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