Keep­ing up with the Bere­jik­lians

With her fed­eral col­leagues in chaos and her Vic­to­rian coun­ter­parts wal­loped at last month’s state elec­tion, NSW Premier Gla­dys Bere­jik­lian is fac­ing a tough elec­tion early next year. But as her close-knit fam­ily can at­test, this is a woman used to stirri

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy DAVE WHEELER In­ter­view NAOMI CHRISOULAK­IS

As she pre­pares for a chal­leng­ing elec­tion, NSW Premier Gla­dys Bere­jik­lian in­vites Stel­lar into her home to talk pol­i­tics,women in lead­er­ship and why her fam­ily have more in com­mon with the Kar­dashi­ans than you think.

Three sis­ters crowd the kitchen, jok­ing and jostling for space as their mother in­structs them on the cor­rect prepa­ra­tion of clas­sic Ar­me­nian dishes. But this scene isn’t un­fold­ing for the ben­e­fit of a lurk­ing re­al­ity-tv cam­era crew; in­stead, we’re in an unas­sum­ing house on Syd­ney’s North Shore, and the most fa­mous sis­ter – who is hand­ing her mother lemons from her gar­den – isn’t known for her so­cial-me­dia prow­ess, but for her pol­i­tics.

“I have to ad­mit I do watch [ Keep­ing Up With The Kar­dashi­ans],” Gla­dys Bere­jik­lian, 48, says with a droll laugh, good-na­turedly ac­knowl­edg­ing the par­al­lel be­tween her­self and Kim Kar­dashian’s fa­mous Ar­me­nian fam­ily. “We’re sim­i­lar in that we’re close to each other and we’re in­volved in each other’s lives.” But re­al­ity-television drama? No, the New South Wales Premier in­sists, just the “nor­mal” drama. “We’re so com­fort­able with each other. We fight all the time – in a good way.”

Born in Syd­ney to Ar­me­nian im­mi­grants Krikor and Ar­sha, Bere­jik­lian and her two younger sis­ters Rita and Mary didn’t speak English un­til they started school. It was a choice made by her par­ents in an at­tempt to pre­serve their her­itage – both sets of grand­par­ents had been or­phaned in the 1915 Ar­me­nian geno­cide.

It worked: Bere­jik­lian is still in­volved in the lo­cal Ar­me­nian com­mu­nity, de­spite hold­ing one of the most de­mand­ing jobs in the coun­try as NSW Premier. She’s only the sec­ond woman to hold the po­si­tion, and she’ll be fight­ing to re­tain it at the up­com­ing state elec­tion in March of next year.

As she sits down in her study to talk to Stel­lar, Bere­jik­lian ad­mits she can only hope to have any time off over Christ­mas as she pre­pares to go to the polls, but in­sists she’s used to it. “I don’t get much down time. I count the amount of hours I get off in a week, as op­posed to the other way round, but I ac­cepted that as I took on this job. You don’t know how long you’ve got the job for, and it’s an in­cred­i­ble priv­i­lege so you make the most of it while you’ve got it. The only time I do get down time is when I come home; even if it’s late, I need to wind down. I read some­thing or, more of­ten than not, watch a TV pro­gram I’ve taped.”

There’s not usu­ally much time for cook­ing, but the fam­ily gath­ers ev­ery Satur­day at Krikor and Ar­sha’s – al­though Ar­sha never lets her daugh­ters bring any­thing, and sends them home with left­overs. “Glad”, as her fam­ily calls her, is usu­ally last to ar­rive and first to leave. “My dad’s started to time it,” she says. “You know, ‘We’re glad you turned up, but how long are you go­ing to stay for to­day?’ That’s the first ques­tion I get asked.”

Her sis­ters keep her in line, too. “I get into trou­ble if I don’t do some­thing as much as they do. Grow­ing up, I used to be the goody-two-shoes that did ev­ery­thing, and now it’s shifted. They carry more of the load than I do, un­for­tu­nately.”

To­day, though, they’re full of praise for their big sis­ter. “I don’t know how she gets around to meet­ing ev­ery­one’s needs,” says Mary, the youngest of the clan. “As busy as she is, she will just drop ev­ery­thing if it means her help­ing me or my sis­ter, or my mum or my dad. I haven’t seen her for this week, which feels mas­sive.” As well as re­spon­si­bil­ity, she says there’s light­ness in her big sis­ter, too. “Peo­ple don’t re­alise how funny she ac­tu­ally is. She has got the quirki­est sense of hu­mour, but she keeps it to her­self un­til you get to know her.”

She has needed it in re­cent months, as the fed­eral Coali­tion faced lead­er­ship chaos and her Vic­to­rian coun­ter­parts got wal­loped at last month’s state elec­tion. What­ever she wor­ries about pri­vately, pub­licly she main­tains she’s fo­cused solely on her own chal­lenges, not those of her Lib­eral Party col­leagues in Vic­to­ria and Can­berra. “I think you will al­ways need to run your own race, and in New South Wales we’ve al­ways stood on our own,” she tells Stel­lar. “My at­ti­tude is: ‘Keep fo­cus­ing on what cit­i­zens want you to do on their be­half.’ And that’s al­ways been my mantra, no mat­ter what role I’ve had.”

She might not be wor­ry­ing about the Vic­to­rian Lib­er­als, but they’re pay­ing at­ten­tion to her. Louise Asher, a for­mer Mem­ber for Brighton who served as a min­is­ter and for­mer Lib­eral Deputy Leader, first met Bere­jik­lian when she was a “highly im­pres­sive” Young Lib­eral. “She stood out from the crowd even then,” Asher says. “The fact that Gla­dys is Premier of Aus­tralia’s largest state tells fe­male MPS in Vic­to­ria that the Lib­eral Party is pre­pared to vote for a woman as leader. She is an in­spi­ra­tion.”

Whether the vot­ers of NSW will be pre­pared to back her in March is an­other ques­tion. But for her part, be­ing a woman doesn’t have much to do with it. “I just fo­cus on do­ing my job well, and I look for­ward to the day where women in lead­er­ship roles are not a nov­elty,” Bere­jik­lian says. “So my con­tri­bu­tion to that ef­fort is to do a good job re­gard­less as a Premier, not a good ‘fe­male Premier’.”

“We are so com­fort­able with each other. We fight all the time”

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