The frontrunners to replace outgoing Premier Gladys Berejiklian are emerging but two potential candidates stand out and are expected to announce their intentions over the weekend.
Treasurer Dominic Perrottet is considered a favourite and late on Friday said he would speak with his family and colleagues over the coming days on “how I can best serve the people of NSW”.
He said Ms Berejiklian was among NSW’s finest ever premiers.
He faces stiff competition from Planning Minister and Pittwater member Rob Stokes who is also set to throw his hat into the ring and has been described as a key ally of Ms Berejiklian.
The Daily Telegraph reports the numbers are tight between Mr Perrottet and Mr Stokes as left and right factions decide where to place their support.
Ms Berejiklian dropped the bombshell on Friday that she was resigning as premier after the Independent Commission Against Corruption said she was under investigation for potential breaches of public trust.
She will also resign from NSW parliament as soon as a by-election for her north Sydney seat of Willoughby can be held.
Not long after the news, her supporters began turning up to leave flowers and cards at her north shore home and electorate office in Willoughby.
— Gabriella Power (@gabriellaapower) October 1, 2021
Ms Berejiklian will remain premier until the Liberal Party elects its new leader.
Environment Minister Matt Kean, who was with Ms Berejiklian when she announced her resignation, is believed to be another contender.
Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres is also in the mix, and if he were to become party leader the 40-year-old would be the first from an area outside of Sydney’s north and east in almost two decades.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance and Attorney-General Mark Speakman have also been spoken of as possible contenders.
Ms Berejiklian weathered bushfires, drought and storms and navigated COVID-19, but after four-and-a-half years in the top job, she couldn’t beat ICAC.
The anti-corruption watchdog says it is investigating whether Ms Berejiklian “exercised public functions” in a position of conflict given her secret five-year relationship with ex-MP Daryl Maguire, revealed at ICAC hearings in late 2020.
Mr Maguire is accused of abusing his public office between 2012 and 2018.
A wearied Ms Berejiklian said on Friday she had “no option” other than to resign, as she could not temporarily step aside and resume her role after the investigation.
“The people of NSW need certainty as to who their leader is during these challenging times of the pandemic … I cannot predict how long it will take the ICAC to complete this investigation, let alone deliver a report.”
She also said her resignation “could not happen at a worse time,” as the state prepared to leave months of COVID-enforced lockdowns in less than two weeks.
The 51-year-old continues to deny any wrongdoing.
“History will demonstrate that I have always executed my duties with the highest degree of integrity for the benefit of the people of NSW, who I have had the privilege to serve,” she said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison lauded the “heroic” qualities of Ms Berejiklian, saying she was a “dear friend” and trusted by the community.