New Fair Trading Minister has scandal-plagued past


NSW appears to have a Fair Trading minister again, having ditched the cumbersome Innovation and Better Regulation title.  However, it seems to also be returning the portfolio to its training wheels role within the government.

And, in Miranda MP Eleni Petinos, Premier Dominic Perrottet has also appointed the first female in the role since Labor was in power, her six Liberal predecessors having all been men.

However, as if being expected to wrangle 139 proposed changes to strata laws and practises announced just weeks ago was not enough, Ms Petinos has also been given the Small Business portfolio.

On top of that, she has responsibility for the 50 or so other pieces of separate legislation that come under Fair Trading, from cars to faulty goods, and real estate and renting to charities.

And she comes to the task with something of a tainted history.

In 2018, she was the focus of a grubby sexting episode involving former Better Regulation Minister Matt Kean, her predecessor but one, whose then recent ex-girlfriend revealed explicit text messages between the two Liberal MPs.

The previous year, in an incident that became known as “Barfgate” she was revealed to have been the MP who threw up in Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s Ministerial car while being driven home following that year’s State of Origin II.

She later threatened to sue veteran Labor MP Walt Secord when he posted an image of a  fake “missing person” milk carton on his Instagram page, claiming she was hiding from public sight following the Barfgate revelations.  

Earlier this year, she was strongly criticised for her failure to support local residents protesting against the compulsory purchase and demolition of nine houses in Jannali to make way for a rail commuter car park.

The plan was later rescinded but not before she had been represented by an empty chair with her name on it at a public meeting attended by about 400 residents.

“The truth is that Ms Petinos and her office haven’t stood with the people of her electorate here, from the moment doors were knocked to today she hasn’t supported or represented our community,” Tom Richards, head of local action group Save Our Home told local Shire newspaper The Leader. “That’s what has hurt the most and won’t be forgotten”.

Commuter railway stations are also currently at the heart of pork-barrelling allegations plaguing the NSW government.

Ms Petinos was elected to the NSW Parliament in 2015, aged only 29.  In her maiden speech she spoke of her pride at her family’s migrant history but also quickly established her Right-wing credentials by distancing them from illegal immigrants, especially those who take welfare payments.

They “lived within their means, did not jump the queue, did not ask for handouts or have an entitlement mentality,” she said.

“They celebrated their Greek heritage but not to the detriment of mainstream Australian values. The Australian dream materialised and they eventually achieved home ownership and education for their children.”

She also spoke of how her grandparents worked different shifts to ensure there was always at least one parent at home with their children.

Before her election to parliament, Ms Petinos was a tax lawyer, as well as a member of the Liberal Party state executive and an advisor to Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

Since April 2017, she has been the chair of the Legislative Assembly Committee on Transport and Infrastructure and was a junior minister in the Department of Transport (which may explain her reluctance to get too involved in the station carpark debacle).

Whether Ms Petinos can put her somewhat picturesque recent past behind her and use the demanding joint portfolios as a launchpad for the next phase of her political career remains to be seen.

All but one of her six male predecessors have gone on to more senior positions in the Cabinet. Matt Kean is now Treasurer and Minister for Energy, Victor Dominello has Customer Service and Digital Government, Stuart Ayres is Minister for Enterprise, Tourism and Sport, and Western Sydney, Anthony Roberts has been reinstated to Planning and most recent incumbent Kevin Anderson now has Lands and Water, as well as Hospitality and Racing.

But unless she proves to be even just a moderately successful advocate for apartment residents and owners, her appointment to two busy and challenging portfolios can only bolster growing calls to take strata out of Fair Trading and put it under a ministry that’s a more natural fit, such as Planning or even Housing.

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