At Wesley Mission’s Easter breakfast in Sydney, Superintendent (traditional Methodist term for pastor) Stu Cameron got to grill the still-new NSW Premier, Dominic Perrottet, lightly.
Perrottet confessed to a re-think on social housing.
“One of the things, you know, I’ve seen through the pandemic, which has been impressive to me as a government, is looking outside the box and the new ways of doing things,” Perrottet told Cameron. “It’s not just getting people into homeownership. It’s getting people into housing and [dealing with] homelessness.”
Describing a pandemic project that employed tradies to fix dilapidated social housing and the hope it gave to families that could move in, Perrottet added, “That was a great example to me. We should [not] have had a pandemic to be able to make these investments and our social responsibility to get people into housing. But also how just small decisions made sitting behind a desk in Macquarie Street can actually make a real difference on the ground.
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“So we have to do a lot more in social and affordable housing. We have to open up more land and build more homes, and we have to do so in a sustainable way that gets people into homeownership.
“Up in the Northern Rivers, my perspective is that as the government we failed in terms of not providing enough housing and affordable housing out there.”
“I think public policy is a great way of looking after our community.” – Dominic Perrottet
Speaking in the lead up to Easter, Perrottet described Easter as “by far the most important week for me in my family”.
“It’s an important family time and it’s a great time, I think, to reflect on the message of the gospel [and] ultimately the sacrifice and service that comes through that.”
The Uniting Church’s Cameron and Catholic Perrottet had a meeting of minds over a vision of Christianity “with its sleeves rolled up”.
“The Australian Saint, Mary MacKillop, said ‘where you see a need, do something about it’,” Perrottet said.
“I think you have great Christian philosophers, and we have politicians who are great with words, but the thing about MacKillop was a very Australian view of Christian faith: ‘just roll up the sleeves and get it done.’
“I think public policy is a great way of looking after our community.”
“That’s a great correlation with our Methodist heritage here at Wesley Mission,” Cameron quickly responded. “And our vision is ‘to do all the good you can because every life matters.'”
“There are more pokies in New South Wales than almost anywhere in the world, it’s a real political challenge.” – Dominic Perrottet
Out of that Methodist tradition, Cameron asked about gambling.
“I’d rather not get a dollar because the social cost is well outweighed by the small amount of revenue coming to the budget,” Perrottet, a former treasurer, responded.
“In consideration of the fact that, as you know, there are more pokies in New South Wales than almost anywhere in the world, it’s a real political challenge.”
Recalling a visit to a club in his electorate of Epping, Perrottet says, “I remember going in there at nine o’clock in the morning … in the pokie section, there were like 20 people there at nine o’clock in the morning, putting their life savings down. I accept that people want to gamble. But to sit there and pretend that there’s not an issue of problem gambling, in the impact that’s having on family breakdown and poverty, is just wrong …
“I met with many [clubs] who provide great support to community groups, but from my perspective, the government can come in and provide that support to community groups at the expense of our budget.”
“So are you a conservative or a reformer?” Perrottet was asked.
“I’m not into labels … People sit there and say, ‘Well, he’s got a Christian faith. He believes in families. He’s a conservative.’
“But ultimately, from my perspective, I just look at issues that come my way. I think we should conserve and preserve what is great and then reform everything else, and innovate. And you don’t hold onto things in the past for the sake of it.”
And then came a hidden sledge towards a hero for many conservatives. “Someone conservative … sitting in the middle and saying ‘stop to everything’, well that’s not true,” said the Premier.
William F. Buckley, the founder of National Review, wrote, “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling ‘stop’, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge.” National Review is probably the most credible non-Trumpian conservative journal in the US.
But back to the Premier: “I think, from my perspective, if something is good and something works, and something makes our country great, then we should preserve it and promote it.” He pointed to Service NSW – the nearly one-stop shop for government services – as a reform of which he is proud. It’s far from perfect, but he’s right.