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Berejiklian pops up in marginal seat, Perrottet denies snub

Stuart Ayres with wife Marise Payne and former NSW Gladys Berejiklian after dinner on Wednesday.

Stuart Ayres with wife Marise Payne and former NSW Gladys Berejiklian after dinner on Wednesday. Photo: Instagram/Stuart Ayres

Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian has lent her assistance to a political ally’s re-election bid, days after skipping out on the Liberals’ campaign launch.

The now-senior executive at Optus was photographed outside a Penrith Chinese restaurant on Wednesday night, after dinner with Stuart Ayres and his wife, Senator Marise Payne.

Mr Ayres, a former NSW cabinet minister, posted the happy snap to his Instagram.

He faces a battle to retain the lower house seat of Penrith, which he holds on a margin of 0.6 per cent.

Wednesday’s dinner came days after Ms Berejiklian was a notable absentee from the Liberals’ campaign launch on Sunday.

But Premier Dominic Perrottet denied he was snubbed.

“Not at all, it’s great to have Glad as part of the campaign,” he said on Thursday.

“She was a great premier of NSW and to see her campaigning in Penrith, I know will make a real difference.”

Mr Perrottet joked that if Ms Berejiklian headed out to his seat of Epping “that would say something” and said hoped to see more of her in marginal seats the Coalition must retain to retain minority government.

“She’s obviously very busy but … Glad knows the Liberals and Nationals have the long-term economic plan,” he said.

While enjoying soaring popularity through the initial months of the pandemic, Ms Berejiklian’s final year in power was overshadowed by an anti-corruption inquiry that exposed her five-year relationship with another Liberal MP, Daryl Maguire.

She denied any wrongdoing and the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s report is not expected until after the election.

The picture reveal came hours after Mr Perrottet and the man vying for his job, Labor leader Chris Minns, both said Ms Berejiklian hadn’t been treated unfairly by the commission.

The leaders on Thursday announced programs targeted at low-income households, with Mr Minns pledging to extend a schools breakfast program initiated by Mr Perrottet in 2019.

Labor promised $8 million over four years so Foodbank could take its School Breakfast 4 Health program to 1000 schools, twice as many catered for now.

“We want kids to have a full belly so they can have a full mind at school,” Mr Minns said.

Mr Perrottet, who campaigned in the must-win seat Parramatta, pledged $10 million down for financial counselling run by non-profits, opening access for another 10,000 to 15,000 households.

Anglicare is putting families on counselling waiting lists as more struggle without the financial support that kept them afloat during COVID-19, financial counsellor Beth Schwalbe said.

“People are finding rents, mortgages and the price of groceries have gone up. There are no other supports out there and financial counselling is a really important way that people can get some help,” she said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, NSW Electoral Commissioner John Schmidt said early voting centres across the state were preparing for strong demand, once voting opened on Saturday.

About 1.65 million people, or 30 per cent of the electorate, are expected to vote before election day on March 25.

Another 464,000 people have already applied for postal voting, bursting through the electoral commission’s initial estimate of 385,000.

Applications for postal voting packs close at 6pm on Monday.

“Voting is compulsory for all enrolled electors in NSW and there are penalties for failing to vote,” Mr Schmidt said on Thursday.

Recent elections held in Australia have seen a marked increase in the number of voters turning out early.

More than 1.3 million people voted early in the 2019 state election.

– AAP

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