Stuart Ayres knows a great deal about the lifecycle of a politician, and over the past few weeks he has seen himself enter the end stage that eventually claims so many. In Ayres’ ever-upward rise as deputy Liberal leader, the Barilaro affair had appeared to be a temporary speedbump.
Now it may mean something more, with Ayres being forced to resign from the Perrottet ministry — a sinking politician in a sinking government.
For the past few weeks, Ayres’ personal fight for survival has infected and magnified the problems of the Perrottet government. It too has entered its own end-stage — that slipping-on-its-own-vomit moment when internal party dynamics well and truly trump the public interest.
It’s the story of the lost Liberals — a repeat, with variations, of the Morrison government that ultimately ate itself, faction by faction. And again it is the NSW mob that’s at it. A party at war with itself, with temporary alliances falling apart.
Ayres ran on a ticket with Perrottet for the positions of deputy leader and leader, respectively, of the NSW Liberal Party after the ICAC-influenced departure of Gladys Berejiklian. Perrottet stood by Ayres far longer than most saw fit. Can Ayres’ departure put an end to the Barilaro-inflicted damage? It may be too late.
The lifecycle of Stuart Ayres, MP
Ayres burst into Parliament a decade ago, a fizzing star even before he walked in the door. From the far-flung west of Sydney, Ayres had snatched the seat of Penrith in sensational style. The young candidate gained an extraordinary swing of 25% from the sitting Labor member in a byelection. It is the stuff of Liberal legend and not easily forgotten, least of all by Ayres himself.
But the legend comes with a cautionary tale, too.
Ayres won Penrith for the Liberals in the dying days of the doomed Keneally ALP government, sinking under the weight of its own corruption and desperation. The ALP member for Penrith, Karyn Paluzzano, had been forced to resign after an adverse finding by ICAC on how she handled electorate finances, among other things. In Labor’s death throes, Ayres emerged victorious as a “community first” candidate.
Ten years on, the historic swing has been eaten up. Penrith is a marginal seat and very much in play with the rest of western Sydney in the NSW election due next year.
On a personal level, too, Ayres has been witness to the final political days of his partner, Marise Payne, the federal senator who soared to the heights of cabinet minister before the flame-out of the Morrison government.
The two have been a remarkable political couple, meeting during Liberal campaigning in 2007. Together they have proven a force as moderates in the party and as a power in western Sydney.
Ayres’ flight from reality
It had become increasingly clear that Stuart Ayres — he of the golden future — had lost the political plot.
On Sunday night he wrote a rambling Facebook post that pinned the blame for his woes on the Labor party, which he claimed was really using the Barilaro affair to target his seat of Penrith.
Yesterday he finally made admissions of sorts that he made misjudgments on Barilaro. Maybe he should have discouraged his old Coalition colleague from applying for the plum $500,000 New York trade job so soon after Barilaro had left Parliament. Oh yes, and particularly because Barilaro had actually created the job. And, oh yes, I did text Barilaro the job advertisement.
Ayres’ reluctant, gritted-teeth admissions were proof of how remote he had become from public sentiment. The public saw immediately that absolutely nothing added up about the appointment of John Barilaro. Everyone but Ayres himself recognised the obscenity of taking it from a candidate, Jenny West, who won the job fair and square, only to see it end up in the lap of old mate John Barilaro.
Ayres entered the world of political denial to save his glittering career. He took the party with him to the land of the lost and confused — and a long way from any remnants of common decency.