Daniel Mookhey led the charge against the John Barilaro commercial saga. Now he has his sights set on the Treasury
Daniel Mookhey accepts that his peers’ description of him as “frugal” is pretty accurate. The 40-year-old former union lawyer, who is working to become NSW’s next Treasurer, openly admits he packs his own lunch before heading to Macquarie Street each day.
Mookhey cooks North Indian cuisine at home, he also smokes meat in a Japanese-style smoker to relax, and points out that his DIY lunches are not only inexpensive but also healthier.
Looking at the NSW opposition’s infrastructure commitments, it’s easy to draw parallels between Mookhey’s frugality and Labor’s spending restraint as the party seeks to win government for the first time in more than a decade on March 25.
While both Labor and the Coalition have pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars this campaign on toll subsidies, energy savings and other cost-of-living measures, a stark difference between the two sides is emerging in their plans for Sydney’s roads and railways for the next decade.
Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet has promised to build bigger dams, build four new multi-billion dollar metro lines and dig a tunnel through the Blue Mountains.
Meanwhile, Mookhey has thrown a spanner in the works on borrowing, saying a Labor government will not go beyond the $187 billion in gross debt that NSW is projected to reach by 2026. Fewer subways are being built, and the Blue Mountains Tunnel is being scrapped.
“If you’re going to use government to make a difference, you have an obligation to make sure every dollar you spend is worth it,” he says.
He believes voters were right to oust Labor in the landslide 2011 election and the only way the party can regain confidence is by presenting a transparent and achievable vision for the state, rather than itself to join the coalition in a fast-paced fundraiser.
Instead, Mookhey and Minns advocate for more investment in schools, local roads and healthcare.
It’s not flashy, but these are the key accomplishments that have helped him, the son of North Indian migrants, get an education in Merrylands, west Sydney, attend university and eventually put him within reach of the NSW Treasurer.
“I managed to get through some difficult circumstances in my childhood because we had excellent public schools,” he says. “We as a state make our money selling the intelligence of our people to the world and lowering educational standards today [are] a recipe for tomorrow’s economic decline.”
Mookhey describes his upbringing in western Sydney as happy, although he lost his father to a heart attack when he was just five and his mother had to raise three children with the help of the local community.
A Labor victory next weekend would catapult him into Australia’s highest political position to be held by someone of Indian origin, he insists.
Mookhey is relatively unknown compared to his opponent, Treasurer Matt Kean, whose reputation for instigating dovish liberal climate and energy policies extends beyond NSW borders.
Despite the low profile, the former Transport Workers Union lawyer is credited in Labor circles with exposing and prosecuting some of the biggest scandals to rock the coalition of this term.
Having helped shatter state insurer icare’s pathetic standards, he also unraveled the government’s complex Transport Asset Holding Entity, which he describes as a multi-billion dollar accounting ploy to inflate the NSW budget.
“Nobody knew what they were until they grabbed them and forensically pulled them apart,” a Labor colleague said of the icare and TAHE scandals.
Mookhey then led the prosecution on the Barilaro trade saga as a key committee member during the investigation into the former deputy prime minister’s brief appointment to a New York trade role.
While fellow Labor members describe him as hardworking, others point out he has difficulty communicating with some MPs and staff.
“He is in a hurry. I don’t think his primary focus is pacifying the backbenchers; he’s trying to bring down the government and not keep his colleagues on the side,” said one.
Mookhey is aware that he’s not doing the traditional character of a Macquarie Street man. Even before the controversial Labor alcohol ban in Minns, he wasn’t caught drinking with colleagues on board nights, opting instead to work from his office.
“I notice that I’m often in rooms with people where it’s not typical to see someone like me, and that’s a good thing,” he says of his Indian origins. “I don’t make it the center of my political identity, but I think our democracy is stronger when it looks like the people we represent.”
While most MPs and staff slip through Parliament in iterations of the same navy suit, Mookhey can often be seen walking the hallways in a hoodie and jeans before slipping into “business attire,” which is best described as a cacophony of colors and patterns could be described.
He also has nine colorful glasses that have interchangeable parts to complete the look.
When asked to describe Mookhey’s fashion sense, a colleague said “loud and proud,” another said “distinctive,” before admitting that “ridiculous” might be a better word.
Mookhey disagrees. “I flatly reject all allegations,” he says with a smile.
“People don’t understand the difference between fashion and style: fashion is about conformity and style is about individuality.”
Stylish or not, Mookhey says he’s had strong feedback from cinematographers that the combination of colorful stripes, dots, and other patterns can “flare up” on television. Colleagues also shared some free fashion tips with the alternate treasurer.
“I am, but I don’t want people to think I’m that weirdo. I guess I’ve toned things down as I’ve gotten older,” he says.
With the possibility of a Labor victory later this month, Mookhey points to the gig economy as a sector where he hopes to make his mark as treasurer.
The father of two spoke to families of migrant workers who died on the road while working as food delivery drivers and were not recognized as employees of the companies they were delivering for.
“There are times when certain issues come to life and you can better empathize with some people’s perspectives,” he says.
Mookhey says that in order for the government to begin reforming the sector, it must first ensure it can support the intended change financially.
“I don’t care what you call someone, I care how you treat them. We need to make sure our economy works for everyone.”
The Opinion newsletter is a weekly collection of views that challenge, support and inform your own. Login here.
https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/daniel-mookhey-led-charge-on-the-barilaro-trade-saga-now-he-wants-to-be-treasurer-20230314-p5cs20.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_national_nsw Daniel Mookhey led the charge against the John Barilaro commercial saga. Now he has his sights set on the Treasury