Berejiklian rolled by colleagues on restaurant rules

 

Gladys Berejiklian was rolled by frustrated senior colleagues over COVID restrictions in a crisis cabinet meeting, with ministers later complaining it was unclear if the Premier's office was running a media strategy or a health strategy.

Ms Berejiklian is now at odds publicly with the large hospitality sector and in conflict privately with key colleagues over a failure to remove the shackles of COVID restrictions on larger venues wanting to host one person per two square metres.

"These are people's lives not a media strategy," one frustrated minister said.

Justin Hemmes is not happy with the COVID-19 restrictions with the current square metre caps killing business. He is pictured with Merivale staff including Dan Hong, Jordan Toft and Nick Van Tiel outside the Establishment Bar on George St, Sydney. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Justin Hemmes is not happy with the COVID-19 restrictions with the current square metre caps killing business. He is pictured with Merivale staff including Dan Hong, Jordan Toft and Nick Van Tiel outside the Establishment Bar on George St, Sydney. Picture: Jonathan Ng

It can be revealed the Premier was forced to change to a compromise position in Wednesday's state emergency operations centre meeting on household gatherings and small hospitality, despite already taking a public stance in media stories on the outcome she expected.

Her opening position on restrictions - which appeared in media stories on Wednesday morning before the meeting - was at odds with ministers Perrottet, Barilaro and Ayres, who wanted her to move further.

It comes as hospitality king Justin Hemmes is now publicly pleading with the government to allow one person per two square metres in large venues, saying he could reinstate 1500 jobs within days.

Mr Hemmes said every day in the weeks before Christmas was critical for the sector and the most important trading period of the year.

He said while the government had led the way through the pandemic, "the pendulum has now swung too far to the cautious side".

"We've had zero cases for 18 days, we can't be scared, we have to live with this," he said.

Mr Hemmes pointed to New Zealand, saying that nation used its success with the virus to properly open up the economy. He also compared NSW to Queensland, noting Queensland now allowed patrons to stand up at a bar, and gave more freedom to larger hospitality venues.

Continued COVID restrictions on hospitality venues are keeping almost 42,000 people out of work in NSW.

It can be revealed the state emergency operations centre crisis cabinet had agreed to debate the question of allowing larger venues to move to one person per two square metres on Wednesday.

Ministers such as Dominic Perrottet and Stuart Ayres had communicated this fact to hopeful hospitality venues that were awaiting a result.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian at the Australian Museum official opening on Thursday. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dylan Coker
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian at the Australian Museum official opening on Thursday. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dylan Coker

However, on Tuesday night, key newspapers including The Daily Telegraph were briefed that the government was expected to agree on Wednesday to a stricter mid-point position involving easing space restriction in only small hospitality venues (up to 200sq m in size) with a 50-person cap - a disappointing result for larger venues.

Premier Berejiklian was quoted in the stories, saying "I hope these changes provide a boost to the hospitality industry and give people certainty in how they can celebrate safely with family, friends and colleagues over the Christmas and New Year period".

Ministers Perrottet, Barilaro and Ayres were of the view the position did not go far enough for large hospitality venues and were frustrated it had been announced before any debate or discussion.

In the meeting, Mr Perrottet and John Barilaro raised their view that the position should go further.

It is understood one person said words to the effect of "these are people's lives".

Outside the meeting, ministers complained that the Premier's office had front-run her position in a bid to get its desired outcome.

"It is a media strategy or a health strategy?" one said.

Another source familiar with the meeting said: "What is the point of SEOC if someone is going to front-run a position in the media?"

In the meeting, Mr Perrottet, Mr Ayres and Mr Barilaro secured two key changes from the position that had been briefed to media outlets the night before: removing the cap of 50 people on small hospitality venues, and increasing the number of people in backyard gatherings to 50.

They did not secure their desired position of allowing one person per two square metres in large hospitality venues, but there was an agreement the issue would be reconsidered next Wednesday.

Ms Berejiklian and Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant cited the virus sewage fragments found at Liverpool as one of the ongoing concerns that led them to remain cautious.

COVID payroll statistics reveal that jobs in the hospitality sector are still down 14.3 per cent.

Originally published as Berejiklian rolled by colleagues on restaurant rules



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