SYDNEY — Australian-Armenian Gladys Berejiklian became 45th premier of New South Wales, and the nation’s first conservative female state leader, after winning unanimous endorsement from Liberal MPs yesterday, Ms Berejiklian’s election caps a long journey as the daughter of Armenian immigrants who spoke little English.
Ms Berejiklian, describing herself as a “regular girl who likes regular things” but facing a ferocious Labor campaign claiming she was installed by Liberal powerbrokers, vowed to confront the state’s lack of affordable housing, build local infrastructure and keep the economy moving.
An intensely private politician who has been described by colleagues as “married to her job”, Ms Berejiklian’s rise to Premier followed Thursday’s abrupt resignation by Mike Baird.
In her first press conference as leader, Ms Berejiklian praised her parliamentary colleagues for putting their trust in her.
“I thank them for determining, based on my performance, that I am best for the job and I am so excited that the party has come together united in support of my Premiership,” she said.
Berejiklian was born in Sydney, the eldest of three daughters born to Armenian immigrant parents, Krikor and Arsha. Her grandparents were orphaned in the Armenian Genocide in 1915. Berejiklian spoke only Armenian until she was five years old, when she began learning English. The Premier spoke movingly of her upbringing.
“I haven’t talked about this much previously but my father was a boilermaker, a welder, and one of the first jobs he did in Sydney was working on the Sydney Opera House, which is a great sense of pride for my family,” she said. My mum left school at 15 to support her family and became a nurse”.
“I want everyone in NSW to feel that they can do what I’ve done, that there’s no challenge too big and that our state has those opportunities,” she told the Sydney radio station.
“I remember my mother saying to me: ‘Glad, even if you’re not quite sure what the teacher’s asking you, put your hand up and have a go’… I just remember that like nothing else and that’s kind of kept me going for all my life.”
In 2015, she attended commemoration ceremonies in Yerevan for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
Ms Berejiklian said she would be governing “for everyone” in NSW.