Wishful thinking or a sign of things to come?
Either way, Gareth Ward provided some much-needed light relief in a tense Liberal Party meeting, as outgoing Premier Barry O’Farrell joked the young Kiama MP had been elected his successor ahead of Thursday’s leadership vote.
A comical Mr O’Farrell cracked up the party room as the soon-to-be leadership team – Mike Baird and Gladys Berejiklian – walked into the room, telling them: ‘‘You’re late. As a consequence, Gareth Ward has been elected Premier unopposed.’’
‘‘Barry always picks on those he loves the most,’’ Mr Ward lightheartedly told the Mercury after the meeting.
‘‘No, but really, it was a good ice breaker because there were a lot of forlorn and ashen faces.’’
Despite this apparent vote of confidence in his leadership skills, Mr Ward said he was not seeking a place in the cabinet under the new guard, even though he counted ‘‘Mike and Gladys’’ as close personal friends.
Mr Ward said the new Premier’s efforts in delivering the $100 million Port Kembla lease fund as Treasurer and Ms Berejiklian’s changes to the rail timetable meant their leadership would be ‘‘good for the Illawarra’’.
He said he would be leveraging his friendship with both new leaders to make sure they were focused on Illawarra – and especially Kiama – priorities.
‘‘They are both talented, intelligent, young and exciting people and I’m very confident they will leave a lasting legacy for this government,’’ he said.
Labor’s Ryan Park was more sceptical of how the duo would benefit the region, saying he hoped the Illawarra would ‘‘not continue to be short changed compared to Newcastle,’’ as had happened during the lease of both cities’ ports.
Shellharbour’s Anna Watson called on Mr Baird to fund the Albion Park Rail bypass and upgrade the Shellharbour Hospital, projects she said had ‘‘stalled’’ under Mr O’Farrell.