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Why Gladys Berejiklian resigned

Mike Seccombe on why Gladys Berejiklian resigned and what happens next in New South Wales.

On Friday, after serving for a decade on the front line of New South Wales politics, nearly half of that as Premier, Gladys Berejiklian suddenly resigned.

Her shocking departure from the top job has left the state in political turmoil in the midst of a pandemic.

It's also raised important questions about political accountability and transparency. 

Today, national correspondent for The Saturday Paper Mike Seccombe on why Gladys Berejiklian resigned and what happens next in New South Wales. 


Guest: National correspondent for The Saturday Paper, Mike Seccombe.

Show Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

On Friday, after serving for a decade on the front line of New South Wales politics, nearly half of that is the state's Premier Gladys Berejiklian suddenly resigned. 

Her shocking departure from the top job has left the state in political turmoil in the midst of a pandemic. 

It's also raised important questions about political accountability and transparency. 

Today, national correspondent for The Saturday Paper, Mike Seccombe, on why Gladys Berejiklian resigned and what happens next in New South Wales. 

It's Monday, October four. 

[Theme Music Ends]

RUBY:
Mike, what was the moment that Gladys Berejiklian's premiership was first put into doubt?

MIKE:
Well, really, it goes back 12 months to hearings of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, better known as ICAC, which was investigating allegations that the former Liberal MP for the state seat of Wagga Wagga, Daryl Maguire, had breached public trust between 2012 and 2018.

Archival tape -- ICAC:
“Did you have any understanding as to whether there were any restrictions in your right to engage in what I call outside employment? So in the property development industry, be they in areas of export, import or anything else?” 

Archival tape -- Daryl Maguire:
“I didn't. I didn't believe that I had restrictions”

MIKE:
So the allegations against him were that he was using his public office and his parliamentary resources to improperly gain a benefit for himself and or entities close to him and at ICAC under questioning, Maguire admitted that he had indeed used his parliamentary staff and resources to pursue his private business interests. 

Archival tape -- Daryl Maguire:
“Well, it's my understanding that I could do personal activities, whether it be business investment and things that I already existed and I should have understood”

MIKE:
He'd effectively turned his Parliament House office into an office for his own company called Gateway International. He basically set himself up as an influence broker for various property developers, and the suggestion was that he could help make things happen at a political level through his connexions. 

Anyway it was deeply dodgy and it ended up with Maguire leaving the parliament, and Ike has now recommended that he be criminally prosecuted. So that was the Maguire story. Where it impinges on Berejiklian, of course, is that it emerged during this hearing that Maguire was in a relationship with the Premier with Gladys Berejiklian. 

Archival tape -- ICAC:
“Were you in a close personal relationship with Miss Berejiklian?” 

Archival tape -- Daryl Maguire:
“Yes.” 

Archival tape -- ICAC:
“Are you still in a close personal relationship with Miss Berejiklian?” 

Archival tape -- Daryl Maguire:
“Not after the events of this, I wouldn't be.  No.”

RUBY:
I remember that it was quite a surprise to everyone, no one had known about this relationship, and there were immediately a lot of questions about whether Gladys Berejiklian had known about what Daryl Maguire was doing right? 

MIKE:
Yeah, exactly, exactly. I mean, and you're right, it was a bombshell for absolutely everybody, you know, everybody in her party, all of the media, everyone watching. 

Archival tape -- ICAC:
“She was one of those people you can discuss your future with.” 

Archival tape -- Daryl Maguire:
“Yes.”

Archival tape -- ICAC:
“And not just your future personally, but a potential future for both of you going forward. Is that right?” 

Archival tape -- Daryl Maguire:
“Yes. In a relationship? Yes, that's right.” 

MIKE:
And it turned out that they had been maintaining this covert relationship for close to five years. But no one knew family members didn't know..And Berejiklian, clean in admitting to the relationship, also denied knowing anything at all about the dodgy carrying on of her partner, her secret partner. This stretched a bit of credulity, I've got to say, particularly given some damning evidence that came out in relation to a secretly tapped phone call between McGuire and Berejiklian that was played at the hearing. 

Archival tape -- Daryl Maguire:
“You know, my little friend?” 

Archival tape -- Gladys Berejiklian:
“Not really.” 

Archival tape -- Daryl Maguire:
“You do.” 

Archival tape -- Gladys Berejiklian:
“I don't need to know who's your little friend you're talking about?”

Archival tape -- Daryl Maguire:
“with the polished head, and he was down. May I are introducing, which was good. You don't need to know what for.” 

MIKE:
And so in this phone call, he's telling Berejiklian that this could alleviate, if not wipe out his massive debts and that everything would be nice and he could write off happily into the sunset, et cetera.

Archival tape -- Gladys Berejiklian:
“Hokis, And I understand that, but this is the other thing that I'm thinking what I need you to process in your head what you want to do, right? But I also need to come to the realisation that it's not got anything to do with me.” 

MIKE:
And she then intervenes as he's, you know, going on with the details to shut him up and say that actually, she didn't want to know any more about that and that the clear implication of that was that she knew she didn't need to know any more about that for various political and ethical reasons. 

RUBY:
Mm hmm. And so what were the consequences of these hearings at the time, Mike? Did Gladys Berejiklian face much political blowback for this close relationship to Daryl Maguire? 

MIKE:
Well, she did receive a fair amount of criticism at the time. She barely survived two motions of no confidence in the parliament following the revelations. The Opposition Leader of the time, Jodi McKay, took to saying that Berejiklian was a quote sounding board for corruption. 

Archival tape -- Jodie McKay:
"You said you didn't know Daryl Maguire stood to profit from a property deal”

MIKE:
which was a pretty devastating line...

Archival tape -- Jodie McKay:
“Jodie McKay: how can the people of NSW trust you?”

MIKE:
And Berejiklian herself became increasingly testy in her responses to media questioning about all of this. 

Archival tape -- Gladys Berejiklian:
“The opposition can clutch at any straws they like. The truth is, I've done nothing wrong and the people are wrong.” 

MIKE:
Then she embarked on sort of a public relations campaign. She went on television.

Archival tape -- Gladys Berejiklian:
“Hands down, this has been one of the most difficult days of my life. I'm an extremely private person.” 

MIKE:
She indicated her sorrow at the broken relationship

Archival tape -- Gladys Berejiklian:
“and without question, I stuffed up in my personal life and I accept that” 

MIKE:
and sort of brushed it off, said it was all in the past that he was a bad boyfriend and that she was a bit heartbroken.

Archival tape -- Gladys Berejiklian:
“It's very difficult for someone in my position to have a private and personal life.” 

MIKE:
And there was a lot of commentary along the lines of poor Gladys, the woman let down by her heart. But anyway, she got away with it. Her approval ratings remain pretty high, and I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that, you know, at the time of those hearings, the pandemic was raging around the world and in Victoria. But in New South Wales, things were working relatively well. The public seemed willing to forgive her indiscretions because she appeared to be and and in fact, she is a very competent leader. There was plenty of other stuff to talk about, and the conversation moved on.

RUBY:
Hmm and 12 months on Mike, things are very different. New South Wales has had its massive delta outbreak. There's been tens of thousands of cases and we've seen hundreds of deaths now that has taken a toll on Gladys Berejiklian's public reputation. But what was the trigger for her actual resignation?

MIKE:
Well, on Friday, New South Wales High Tech released this explosive statement. They announced that they would be holding hearings to investigate Berejiklian specifically. So, you know, before it was about McGuire, and she was giving evidence. This is an investigation of her, and ICAC's said it was going to probe whether Berejiklian had breached public trust when she awarded grants to several community organisations between 2012 and 2018. Back when things were still hot with Daryl and those community organisations were based in Wagga Wagga and Daryl Seat and ICAC's said it was going to investigate any quote position of conflict unquote between her professional role and her private relationship with Maguire that dropped. And then we heard almost immediately that Berejiklian would certainly be seen to be making a major announcement. 

And just an hour or so after that, she fronted up, held a press conference, made a statement and took no  questions.

Archival tape -- Gladys Berejiklian:
“Good afternoon, everyone, I'm here to make a public statement and won't be taking in anything…”

MIKE:
and announced her resignation.

Archival tape -- Gladys Berejiklian:
“Therefore, it pains me to announce that I have no option but to resign from the Office of Premier. My resignation will take effect as soon as the New South Wales Liberal Party can elect a new parliamentary leader”

RUBY:
We'll be back after this. 

[Advertisement]

RUBY:
Mike, last week, on Friday afternoon, Gladys Berejiklian called a press conference where she announced that she was resigning as the New South Wales premier. How did she sound to you?

MIKE:
Well, she sounded sad, but also a bit defiant, implicitly criticising ICAC for having done this at such a critical point in the New South Wales Covid crisis. 

Archival tape -- Gladys Berejiklian:
“My resignation as premier could not occur at a worse time, but the timing is completely out of my control as the ICAC has chosen to take this action during the most challenging weeks or the most challenging times of the state's history.” 

MIKE:
But she's a tough cookie and there were no tears. There was no self-pity. She began the press conference by saying that she had to make an extremely difficult decision overnight after having been advised that ICAC would be investigating her. And she said that in the normal course of events, if it was anyone else in her ministry, they would have to stand aside until the matter was resolved. 

Archival tape -- Gladys Berejiklian:
“That same standard must always apply to me. Also as the Premier. However, standing aside is not an option for me as the premier of New South Wales. The people of this state need certainty as to who their leader is during the challenging times of the pandemic.” 

MIKE:
And so she announced that she had no other option but to resign from her office as premier, and her resignation would take effect as soon as the New South Wales Liberal Party can elect a new parliamentary leader. 

Archival tape -- Gladys Berejiklian:
“History will demonstrate that I've always executed my duties again with the highest level of integrity for the benefit of the people of New South Wales, who I have had the privilege to serve.” 

MIKE:
She went on “Resigning at this time is against every instinct in my being..”

Archival tape -- Gladys Berejiklian:
“I love my job and I love serving the community, but I have been given no option. Following the statement that's been issued today.” 

RUBY:
And, Mike, these new allegations that have ultimately forced Gladys Berejiklian to step aside, do we know anything more about them beyond what was in that ICAC's statement?

MIKE:
A little bit. Key to the ICAC's new enquiry allegations first revealed by the ABC's 7.30 programme that Berejiklian, when she was treasurer and in her secret relationship with Maguire, ticked off on funding for a building development that Maguire and an associate of his sought to profit from. 

Archival tape -- 7:30:
“Ever since 7:30, revealed fresh details about the premier's role in approving a grant pursued by Daryl Maguire. She's been facing more uncomfortable questions about an ongoing corruption enquiry into her former partner.” 

MIKE:
And this was a grant with $5.5 million for the Australian Clay Target Association's Clubhouse and Convention Centre in Wagga Wagga. And when Berejiklian was questioned about her role in the grant in parliament, she downplayed it. I suppose, as you would expect. But documents later emerged showing that Maguire had written to her, and she in turn had passed that on to the sports minister. And there was also correspondence from bureaucrats, indicating an awareness that Berejiklian had a particular interest in seeing the funding happen. And anyway, she tried to downplay all of that, too. 

Archival tape -- Paul Farrell:
“Premier, you requested a reassessment of a five point five million dollar grant. The Daryl Maguire stood to gain a…”

Archival tape -- Gladys Berejiklian:
“Can you please stand back a bit. Thank you.” 

Archival tape -- Paul Farrell:
“Why did you do that? And isn't that a serious conflict of interest, given you were in a secret, a secret relationship with him at the time?” 

Archival tape -- Paul Farrell:
“Firstly, the proposition you're putting is absolutely ridiculous. And second, all proper processes were followed, and that's all I saw on the matter. Thank you.”

MIKE:
But those revelations have spurred the ICAC into expanding its investigations, and for months now, there have been rumours around the place that the commission was going to investigate her, which of course we now know they have. 

That's an important thing to note here is that just because Berejiklian has resigned as premier, that doesn't mean she's off the hook. You know, the ICAC will continue its investigations and as we know, arc investigations can lead in all sorts of directions. They can lead to adverse findings of corruption, and they can even result in criminal prosecutions down the track. 

RUBY:
OK. And so, Mike, what happens to New South Wales now? I mean, the pandemic is still going on. The health system has been under a lot of pressure. It's not really an ideal time for a premier to resign. So who's going to run the state? 

MIKE:
Well, Gladys, for now, she's sticking around until a new premier can be decided in the Liberal Party room meeting on Tuesday.

The frontrunner is the Treasurer Dominic Perrottet. And, you know, treasurer is normally the sort of next step down from the Premier. So it's the logical progression. He's from the right faction of the party. He's your fiscal conservative, you know, enthusiastic privatiser or an outsourcer. Personally, he's a conservative Catholic. 

The next most likely, I guess you would say, is the planning minister Rob Stokes. He's another moderate. One profile this week described him as being a lot like the former Premier Mike Baird, you know, progressive, likeable, quietly Christian, good-Looking, which never hurts in politics. Trustworthy, but maybe just a bit too nice for a job that can sometimes require a bit of mongrel 

So anyway, those are your contenders. 

No doubt all have spent the weekend working the phones, you know, trying to shore up support, working out coalitions of people from the various factions that they might be able to pull together. And we'll see how it goes. 

RUBY:
And, Mike, this is not the first time that a New South Wales premier or a minister has resigned as a result of enquiries by ICAC. So why does this keep happening and does it say something about the way that New South Wales is?

MIKE:
Well, I do think it does actually, and I think what it says is actually good. There's there's no reason really to believe that this state is actually more corrupt and more prone to dodgy dealings and pork barrelling than other jurisdictions, including the federal government. The difference is New South Wales has a strong anti-corruption body in our case, and that shines a light into these dark corners. And so, you know, ironically, we look worse because we actually have higher standards. 

The circumstances of the enquiry into Berejiklian are not that different from the sports rorts scandal and several others involving the use of hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars by the Morrison government to partisan ends.

So you know, what this highlights again is is the need for a similar body to ICAC at a federal level with real powers, you know, not like not like what the Morrison government keeps talking about and not delivering.

RUBY:
Hmm. Mike, thank you so much for your time. 

MIKE:
Thank you very much. 

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RUBY:
Also in the news today…

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance has announced his resignation from state politics.

Constance was considered a contender for the Liberal Party leadership following Gladys Berejiklian’s resignation, but has instead decided to leave state parliament and contest the federal seat of Gilmore.

And Victoria recorded 1,220 new cases of Covid-19 on Sunday, while NSW recorded 667 cases - the lowest daily number since August.

I’m Ruby Jones, See ya tomorrow.

[Theme Music Ends]

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