Small Business and Fair Trading Minister Eleni Petinos was sacked on Sunday (August 31), barely a week after Building Commissioner David Chandler announced he would be cutting short his recently extended contract with the NSW government.
Ms Petinos’ removal as Fair Trading Minister was announced by Premier Dominic Perrottet shortly after his return from fact-finding missions to Japan and India.
“Today I spoke with the Minister for Small Business and Fair Trading Eleni Petinos after some further matters concerning her were brought to my attention,” he said.
“In light of these matters, Ms Petinos’ service as a Minister will cease with immediate effect, and I will write to the Governor in this regard tomorrow.
“Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government Victor Dominello will assume Ms Petinos’ portfolio responsibilities.”
The sacking culminates a week in which Mr Chandler’s resignation was followed by reports that Ms Petinos, the Liberal Member for Miranda, had been accused of bullying her staff members – allegations she strongly denied.
One former staff member, who has a disability, claimed she had been subjected to extended tirades by Ms Petinos including being called “useless” and “retarded”.
Again, Ms Petinos denied the allegations, although the staff member had subsequently been sacked. Premier Perrottet said he had spoken to Ms Petinos and established that the accusations were groundless.
However, one newspaper report said that Ms Petinos, as minister with responsibility for workplace health and safety, had even berated the facilitator of a seminar on bullying, and did so in front of Premier Perrottet.
Following her sacking, Ms Petinos said she was “truly sorry” if she offended anyone or made them feel uncomfortable.
“Tonight the Premier informed me I would no longer be a Minister in his Government,” she said in a press release.
“I am proud of my work while I served the people of NSW as Minister for Small Business and Minister for Fair Trading. I fought hard for small businesses who are the lifeblood of NSW and I will continue to advocate for them regardless of my role.
“The intense pressures and stresses of such important portfolios are significant for both staff and their Minister. I thank my staff for their efforts in supporting me to deliver for the people of NSW.
“I would never intentionally offend anyone or make them feel uncomfortable, and if I did I am truly sorry.
“I pursue politics to make a positive difference and will continue to do so proudly as the Member for Miranda.”
Ms Petinos appointment as Minister for Small Business and Fair Trading was met with a mixture of surprise and dismay. She was given the ministries in the cabinet reshuffle that followed Mr Perrottet’s elevation to Premier, after the resignation of his predecessor Gladys Berejiklian.
That Fair Trading was seen as a training wheels ministry was no surprise, but it set alarm bells ringing that the department in charge of strata issues was reduced to an adjunct of Small Business at a time when Building Commissioner David Chandler was trying to effect cultural change in the apartment industry.
Ms Petinos seemed to have little interest in strata issues and one of her remarkably few interventions in the area was to respond to a flimsy allegation that Mr Chandler had misled parliament.
Shooters, Fishers and Farmers MP Mark Banasiak had claimed Mr Chandler misled parliament in describing the extent of his powers. Rather than dismiss the allegations or support the Building Commissioner for doing a tough job in a hostile environment, Ms Petinos responded by initiating an investigation into the claim.
It felt, to many observers, like a set-up, intended to undermine the Building Commissioner who was upsetting a lot of small-scale developers by being effective in protecting consumers.
The probe would prove groundless but the damage was done. Mr Chandler cut short the recent one-year extension of his contract by nine months and he will be gone before Christmas.
One Labor MP asked how it was that a man who had worked in the building industry for 50 years couldn’t survive seven months under former minister Petinos.
Ms Petinos has rarely been too far removed from scandal in her political career. She was embroiled in a “sexting” incident with a now senior government minister and was belatedly outed as the mystery passenger who vomited in the back of former NSW Nationals party leader John Barilaro’s official car.
And, ironically, it may be the scrutiny of “Porky” Barilaro’s scuppered efforts to get the plum job as NSW trade envoy to New York that has cost Ms Petinos her position.
Nine months out from a state election, with the polls running in Labour’s favour, Mr Perrottet can’t go to the barricades on every issue. Right or wrong, Ms Petinos may merely have been collateral damage in a fight to win votes from an electorate increasingly exercised by concerns for integrity, honesty and decency.
Meanwhile, keen observers will note that in her valedictory press release, she said she’d worked hard for small business. Fair Trading, strata and all of us who live in it barely rated a mention.
The situation will be discussed on this week’s Flat Chat Podcast.