NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet: lessons from my father, John – Sydney Morning Herald

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet: lessons from my father, John  Sydney Morning Herald


John Perrottet, 65, works at the World Bank developing tourism projects. His 37-year-old son Dominic – one of 12 siblings – is NSW Treasurer. The family’s size meant Perrottet dinners and outings were always robust affairs. 

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John Perrottet: “You don’t often get a chance to stand in a polling booth and vote for your own son.”Credit:Louie Douvis

JOHN: My wife, Anne, and I didn’t go into married life with a plan to have a dozen kids. We actually had 13 children, eight boys and five girls. We lost Joseph, who had a congenital abnormality, and died as he was being born.

Dominic is the third eldest and was a boisterous child. His brain really goes at a thousand miles an hour. When he was three or four, it would go so fast his mouth really couldn’t keep up. You had to calm him down a bit but that’s because he’s got a very fertile mind.

When the kids were young, we’d ask them each to find a newspaper clipping and bring it to the dinner table and say something about it. We’d censor it so they didn’t come up with something too horrific. And it couldn’t be the latest goings-on with the Wests Tigers rugby league team night after night. Anne, who was a primary school teacher, instigated it. She said, “Keep their mouths full and minds occupied.” It was always going to be a rabble – let’s not run away from that fact! – but it gave some order to dinner time. They had to listen and be ready to hear what the other person had to say, and not talk out of line.

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Having such a large family, the budget was under pressure, so every year we’d do a section of the Great North Walk [in NSW; the family was raised in Sydney’s northern suburbs], and that was a great way of having an economically friendly holiday. It was trekking, not just camping. You had to carry everything. The kids learnt to toughen up. We had a couple of massive leech attacks on one of these trips, and I came back with 100 leech bites. Dominic hates leeches.

There were times when we took off on holiday and realised we’d left a kid somewhere. One time Anne was driving – we had this massive Nissan 15-seater bus that the kids hated – and she looked in the rear-view mirror to do a headcount. The baby seat was empty, so she screeched to a halt. In a big family personalities get sharpened up fast. The kids were always competing.

Dominic has been bashed from pillar to post by his siblings since he could walk. He’s got a lot of ideas, is a good talker, but most importantly is incredibly resilient.

We’re both interested in sport and are both long-distance runners. Dom and I would buy Percy Cerutty books when he was young and read about long-distance tactics. Cerutty was Australia’s long-distance running coach when Herb Elliott broke the four-minute mile. Every year, the whole family would race in Sydney’s City2Surf. In 2000, Dominic must have had a big night on the turps before the race, as he wasn’t feeling too good. He pulled over during the race and started throwing up on the side of the road, only to see his brother Gabriel, who’s half his age, go bolting past. He thought, “I can’t live with this!” So Dom composed himself, took off and caught up with Gabe. He was never going to be beaten by his younger brother.

When Dominic was running for office, we had to go along and vote for him. That was interesting;  you don’t often get a chance to stand in a polling booth and vote for your own son. In the booth with my wife, I joked, “Gee, look at this guy Perrottet. Total loser. Don’t vote for him.”

Dominic knew politics would be demanding, and could keep you away from your family. I told him to read this book by [former deputy PM] John Anderson, who managed to keep his family at the forefront. Dominic has also done that very well.

He had invitations to go to the AFL grand final this year but instead chose to attend the basketball grand final of [his daughter] Charlotte, who’s 10. I was very proud. Charlotte was so happy and, even better, her team had a big win!

DOMINIC: It’s been great growing up in a large family. It set me in good stead for politics because everyone was having a crack at each other. You didn’t really have time to get too offended. Mum and Dad had to have a whiteboard to keep track of where we were and make sure we came home for dinner. It was a military operation. Everyone had different interests and was off doing their own thing.

From late primary school, we had to cut out an article from the newspaper and present and debate it at the dinner table. It ensured there was a structured dining experience rather than a free-for-all. Growing up in an environment where you are debating each other was really fostered in our family; the best way to beat people is debating through humour and not to take yourself too seriously. Yes, have strong opinions, but respect other people’s opinions.

Such robust discussions make you a critical thinker. Dad does think deeply about issues. He’s introverted, sensitive and considerate. I’m more competitive and extroverted.

As more kids came, we had to have two dinner sittings. Mum would get the little kids out of the way first, and when Dad came home we’d have dinner. Dad often helped with tutoring maths and English. He was very engaged.

Dad was a distance runner. He’d give me books and talk to me about diet and training. He’d put little plans together for us. I love running, it’s a great way to clear your head. Dad had a busy job, and travelled a lot. I always found his work fascinating because he was working in developing countries trying to improve communities and people’s lives. [It meant, however, that] our entire house would get cluttered with these disgusting artefacts. I don’t know how Mum put up with it!

We have mild disagreements. The World Bank has a strong socialist agenda. We’ve had the occasional discussion around what’s the best role of government in developing countries. Dad has had a very happy marriage. I clearly remember going to see him in his office on [Sydney’s] Pitt Street when I was going to propose to Helen and asking him for his advice. He said, “If they’re a good friend … they’ll make a great partner.” [Dominic and his wife Helen, a lawyer, have six children.]

What I learnt from Dad is that time is precious when you’re at home. It’s challenging to balance work and family life and make sure that when you’re home, you’re home, not somewhere else. It’s something he’s instilled in me: you get your happiness and joy in life from your family. Dad’s demonstrated that in spades.

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