FROM ZERO TO HERO: Barilaro on a mission to earn trust
NEWLY-promoted NSW deputy premier John Barilaro visited the Clarence Valley for the first time since taking up the role and was full of praise for Clarence Valley MP Chris Gulaptis.
He credited the local MP for the coalition's change in direction over high-profile contentious issues such as the jail closure and greyhound industry reform.
"I've got to pay respect to Chris, Chris on the greyhounds crossed the floor, was a community champion and copped a setback for that ... but he'll put his community first, he showed that on the jail as well," he said.
Mr Barilaro made the visit to the Clarence Valley yesterday, talking with local business and members of the community.
He didn't shy away from criticising his government's performance in recent times.
"We've made some dumb decisions," he said. "I think the government has to earn some trust after some policy decisions we've made.
"We've got to learn sometimes. Governments, for whatever reason, will make decisions, and we may think it's the right decision at the time.
"But as long as we've got the ability then to listen when it doesn't seem to be the right decision, and then respond, which is what we've done on local government, on lockout laws and of course, greyhounds, we're responding."
He said his focus was firmly fixed on ensuring the government listened to voters outside the main metropolitan areas.
"Since taking on the leadership , there's a bit of a view, whether it is perception or reality, that the government's focus has always been about Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong. So for me it's about getting out and about ... and taking on board some of the issues that the community is facing.
"We've been in government for six years, and everything you expect from your government we've been doing; growing jobs, growing the economy, getting rid of debt ... everything the community expects, we're doing it.
"But we haven't sold our story right. We've got to get really granular in our approach because there are smaller communities that aren't feeling that prosperity."
And although the Clarence Valley was experiencing record public infrastructure spending on the highway upgrade, Grafton bridge and a 1700-inmate jail, Mr Barilaro admitted he was taking nothing for granted when it came to re-election.
"All that we've done is just the start of the journey, but what we've done is the evidence that we can deliver," he said. "For far too long governments have been talking about stuff that people don't care about and we've lost our way. People want us to talk about the stuff that matters at a very local level.
"My job over the next two years is to reconnect with communities and show that we are not just listening but responding.
"And we will work one person at a time, town hall by town hall, talking about the stuff that matters and hopefully earning their trust back."
Mr Gulaptis said that Mr Barilaro's praise reinforced the importance to him of sticking up for his electorate.
"If the same situation, that I have to support the people above government policy, then I'd have no hesitation in doing it," Mr Gulaptis said.
"But what's more important to me is that he came into the electorate and he got to hear the things that are important.
"That's what I'm pleased about - we're returning to our grass roots as a party and listening to what concerns are closest to people's heart."