Gladys Berejiklian became Premier and NSW Liberal Party leader after Mike Baird’s resignation in January. She had entered State Parliament in 2003 as the member for Willoughby. Berejiklian, 47, chats to me about her childhood, why she didn’t think she would make it in politics, and the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated arena.
What is a day in the life of you?
Well, with my job there is no such thing really as a day in the life. But I am someone who is very structured and organised, so I like to plan ahead as much as I can, because in this job the unexpected always crops up … Before I had this job, I used to count the hours I worked; now I count the hours I have off.
Did you always know you were going to go into politics when you were younger?
I always wanted to but I don’t think I always believed I would make it … I had this feeling that I would really be able to contribute something, but I never felt I would make it.
Why didn’t you think you would make it?
I had a different background, my long surname, just a whole bunch of things. I just thought I didn’t quite fit the mould. So my teachers and my parents used to always say: “Have a plan-B, Gladys.”
How would you describe your childhood?
Oh, extremely happy, very, very loving environment and I just always felt completely supported. I was raised by my extended family, just not just my parents. It was quite “hands off” – I mean my parents were quite strict but they never told me to do my homework, they never told me to do anything … they just let us do things our own way, which was really encouraging.
What was the biggest challenge when you did go into politics?
I only got there by 144 votes [in my first election] … I think the challenges are ongoing. Politics is a kind of profession – as are lots of others – where you never stop having the challenges, and even if you are in different roles and you work your way up the tree, there are different and emerging challenges that come up. So you never feel that you’ve completely mastered anything … there is always something new to deal with.
Who do you look up to and admire?
… You come across amazing people who have really challenging circumstances and they just get on with their life and don’t complain – they’re the kind of people I really respect. They make the most of what they have, they try to be the best they could be for themselves and their families and that’s what really, really motivates and inspires me.
You always look well groomed – is that something important to you?
Well, I love clothes and I love fashion and I just like to mix and match. I think it is important to always present well, and to make the most of what you have.
What do you enjoy doing during your time off?
I love catching up with family and friends. I love the arts, I love reading. I used to play golf but I just haven’t had time. I go to the gym – not as much as I used to. I’m only managing to do two workouts a week, so I’ve put on like a kilo, which I’m not happy about, so I’ve got to work that off.
What’s on your reading list at the moment?
I normally have four or five books next to my bed … I’m reading a history book on NSW … I also like New Age books as well … I like to read what social commentators are saying around the world, as well just to pick up on what the mood is.
You have said you’re married to your job. What is that like?
I think anyone in my position would have to dedicate the time to the job that I am in. It is just part of your life, you just know that as long as you’ve got this job, this is your life and you’ve got to make the most of it, so that’s my attitude … I’ve just got to make the most of every day because not everybody has a chance to be in a role like mine leading Australia’s largest state, at a time when we’re doing so well.
What are your hopes for NSW while you’re Premier?
My focus is to build on the base we’ve got; we’re doing really well, but take it to the next level, and I want every person no matter where they live … to feel that they can be their best … If you provide good infrastructure, if you provide good schools, it doesn’t matter what your background is, you’ve got the chance to learn and be your best.
What is the biggest change you think people are looking for?
I think people want to be part of government. They don’t just want to be listened to during elections, they want to know that you’re in constant communication with them, that you’re listening and in tune with what people need.
What is it like being in the public spotlight all the time?
Well, I’ve kind of become a little bit used to it with my previous roles, but certainly this is a whole new level … I’m still quite new in the job, so I’m getting used to that side of it.
What would be your advice to young women wanting to go into politics?
I would say: be yourself, don’t try to be something you’re not … I’ve been quite stubborn, I guess, during the course of my career to say, “No, I want to do things differently,” including how I deal with the media. But I’ve said, “This is me, this is how I’m doing it.” I think just stay true to who you are and don’t let others around you try to tell you how to do your job.
Where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years?
It all depends on the good people of NSW. That’s the one thing in my line of work: you can work your hardest … but your future is really determined by how the public mark my government and myself.
WE WENT TO Nola Smokehouse, Barangaroo
WE ATE Crisp Hawkesbury Calamari & Pork Salad with grilled Spanish onion, chickpeas, chili, mint; Scallop Ceviche with Mexican cucumber salad, creme fraiche, avruga, chives; BBQ Yamba Shrimp with creamed grits, warrigal greens, abita ale and a selection of bread.
WE DRANK Coca cola and mineral water
GLADYS WORE A Country Road dress and David Lawrence jacket
PHOTOGRAPHY SMH photographer Louie Douvis