MP elevated to Cabinet despite massage scandal
GAFFE prone government backbencher Gareth Ward has been elevated into Cabinet with a new ministry combining the $6.8 billion Family and Community Services portfolio with Disability Services.
Mr Ward, 38, who is legally blind and lives with albinism, has frequently been in the headlines and was accused of bullying by a female Federal MP late last year.
As the head of FACS, Mr Ward becomes the legal parent of approximately 18,000 vulnerable wards of the state.
In 2017, Mr Ward claimed to have been the victim of a bizarre extortion attempt at a New York hotel.
He was staying at the Intercontinental Hotel in Times Square when he said two male Afro-Caribbean masseuses arrived at his door late at night and attempted to blackmail him, demanding $US1000 after filming him in his underpants in his hotel room.
He has always said he booked a "normal, standard massage" through the hotel concierge, costing $100 and denies ordering a "special" one.
At the time, Mr Ward said: "I asked for a massage and what was clear was that there was more on offer and when I made it clear that was not what I wanted, I asked them to leave. Who doesn't ask for a massage when they are on holiday?"
Mr Ward has been vital to Premier Gladys Berejiklian's re-election campaign as head of the NSW Liberal Party's key seat committee, which took charge of vulnerable electorates.
Late last year, federal Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis accused Mr Ward of "bullying, betrayal and backstabbing" by claiming he led a campaign of "misinformation" to scuttle her attempts to be re-endorsed for the South Coast seat of Gilmore.
In a speech to federal parliament, Ms Sudmalis, who lost preselection, claimed Mr Ward "annihilates anyone who opposes him".
Ms Sudmalis alleged Mr Ward had plotted and engaged in "manipulation of both people and numbers" in a pattern of behaviour that included leaking, branch-stacking and rolling her federal electoral conference which made her local position "untenable".
"Bullying, betrayal and backstabbing have been the hallmarks of one of my state Liberal colleagues, Gareth Ward, over the past six and a half years," she said in the September speech in September.
She said Mr Ward had approached her friends "asking me to nominate my retirement date and then he'd call off his people".
"This is not the first time Gareth has flexed his vengeance on strong Liberal women," she said.
Mr Ward categorically denied the claims. Other Cabinet ministers say Mr Ward would be well suited to the portfolio. "He's a great retail politician", one supporter said.
GLADYS SHAKES UP HER CIRCLE
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has pledged a "modern progressive" government focused on "social issues" as she yesterday unveiled her new cabinet line-up, which includes some surprise winners and losers.
Ms Berejiklian also flagged a shake-up of bureaucracy in coming weeks, saying she has further plans to consolidate and cut back government departments and agencies - but does "not anticipate" job losses.
The new mix includes a combination of "experience and new blood", Ms Berejiklian said, with a number of senior ministers remaining in their current portfolios, such as Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Health Minister Brad Hazzard.
Apart from the surprise appointment of gaffe-prone Kiama MP Gareth Ward as the new FACS Minister, other eyebrow raising changes include Melinda Pavey's loss of the Roads portfolio. Transport Minister Andrew Constance adds metropolitan roads to his responsibilities, while another National, Paul Toole, takes on regional transport and roads.
The Nats' Sarah Mitchell is a big winner, landing the Education ministry, while Rob Stokes returns to Planning.