The woman who couldn’t save herself
Gladys Berejiklian’s resignation points to the urgent need for a federal ICAC
Gladys Berejiklian has resigned as NSW premier, and will leave parliament entirely once a byelection can be safely held, after the NSW corruption watchdog announced she was under investigation over her previous relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire. Just hours after she was jointly named Australia’s “most powerful person” (along with yet another glowing AFR cover), news broke that ICAC was investigating whether Berejiklian had breached public trust when awarding community grants between 2012 and 2018, and whether she failed to report things about her then-boyfriend’s conduct that she suspected could constitute corruption. Berejiklian will wait for the NSW Liberal Party to choose her successor before officially standing down, with three men – Dominic Perrottet, Rob Stokes and Stuart Ayres – now vying for the job. Perrottet, her deputy from the right, has long been perceived as her likely successor, prompting fears of a UK-style reopening out of lockdown. But whoever ultimately replaces her, the dramatic shift will be widely felt, with the premier having been forced to abandon her post at a critical time for the state. (“The people of the state need certainty as to who their leader is during the challenging time of the pandemic,” Berejiklian said. Indeed.) Earlier in the afternoon, the PM moved forward his planned press conference (announcing a federal cabinet reshuffle) to avoid a clash – and, many suspect, to avoid having to answer awkward questions about the NSW premier, with reports of her impending resignation already circulating. The reason for the cabinet reshuffle – the eventual resignation of Christian Porter from the ministry, over equally questionable but unprobed conduct – stands in maddening contrast with the NSW premier’s full and prompt standing down. Why is there still no federal ICAC, and how many of Scott Morrison’s ministers would still be in power if there were?
A clearly upset Berejiklian took no questions after today’s announcement, much in line with her track record on accountability. The premier, who recently decided she would no longer be giving daily COVID-19 updates (and had already been cutting them rather short anyway), has long been dismissive of questions about the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation into Maguire, implying they were “offensive”, even as reports swirled that she might be under investigation herself. As recently as August, the premier waved away questions (literally) from the ABC’s Paul Farrell, calling suggestions of a conflict of interest “absolutely ridiculous” and demanding that he “respect” the press conference she was then holding. (Farrell and the ABC’s 7.30 have long been pursuing the premier over this; as Farrell tweeted today, “what we do matters”.) Unfortunately for Berejiklian, the decision by ICAC – which she was advised of late yesterday afternoon – will leave her with little choice on the matter, with the soon-to-be former premier to face public hearings as part of the inquiry, due to begin October 18 and expected to run for 10 days. Berejiklian joins a line of NSW Liberal premiers to resign while under investigation by the powerful state ICAC, including Nick Greiner and Barry O’Farrell.
But if ICAC has taken yet another scalp, it’s a harsh reminder of the lack of a federal anti-corruption commission – as is Morrison’s “matey” reshuffle. Today’s federal cabinet reshuffle, the second one prompted by the behaviour of Christian Porter, has only come about because the public pressure on Porter grew too great, not because he faced any kind of formal inquiry for a clearly-in-breach-of-the-standards donation he received towards the legal fees incurred in his defamation case against the ABC. The reshuffle has seen Morrison promote two of his closest allies, the ABC notes, with Immigration Minister Alex Hawke elevated to cabinet and Morrison’s own assistant minister and close friend Ben Morton to become the special minister of state and the public service minister. Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor – who might not be in cabinet at all if there were a federal ICAC – has gained the industry portfolio from Porter, while Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price – whose own decision-making has raised calls for one – picks up science and technology.
In fact, it’s difficult to find many in the Morrison ministry who wouldn’t have faced some kind of investigation if there were a federal ICAC – including Morrison himself. Berejiklian’s rightful resignation over the potential misuse of public funds is a reminder of the federal government’s non-stop misuse of public funds, and her departure has only increased calls for the national anti-corruption commission the government has long avoided introducing, for obvious reasons. While Labor MPs have been widely respectful of Berejiklian’s decision and legacy today, they’ve been quick to attack the federal party, with leader Anthony Albanese sandwiching Berejiklian’s brief presser with repeated promises to establish a national ICAC.
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Gladys Berejiklian has resigned as NSW premier, and will leave parliament entirely once a byelection can be safely held, after the NSW corruption watchdog announced she was under investigation over her previous relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire. Just hours after she was jointly named Australia’s “most powerful person” (along with yet another glowing AFR cover), news broke that ICAC was investigating whether Berejiklian had...
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