The Politics    Friday, October 1, 2021

The woman who couldn’t save herself

By Rachel Withers

Image of AFR Magazine cover, Oct 1, 2021, altered by The Monthly (via Twitter).

Image of AFR Magazine cover, Oct 1, 2021, altered by The Monthly (via Twitter).

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.

The premier of NSW, one of the most powerful people in the country, is standing down largely over a $5 million grant to a gun club from four years ago. But those in the federal government, who have openly rorted hundreds of millions more – including to gun clubs – face no lasting consequences at all.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“The Nationals have been in government for 8 years & are still today conceding they haven’t come up with a plan to support the regions to seize the clean energy opportunities before us.”

Independent MP Helen Haines blasts the Nationals, after Senate leader Bridget McKenzie complained on RN Breakfast that ministers haven’t seen an emissions-reduction plan from the PM.

“Families should be able to have some kind of gathering – and maybe the grand final day is a good way to do that.”

Victorian Opposition leader Matthew Guy’s repeated calls for AFL grand final freedoms have aged abysmally, in light of the fact in-home gatherings accounted for yesterday’s massive spike in case numbers.

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The percentage of JobKeeper recipients who triggered compliance checks that were found to be “not eligible at all” by the ATO, with some employers creating fictitious staff and exaggerating their losses in order to claim.

“The nation’s peak health advisers have called for mandatory vaccinations for health workers in a new push for uniform rules to protect patients in hospitals and surgeries, as Victoria sets an October 15 deadline for authorised workers to have their first jabs.”

Today’s national cabinet meeting is set to consider advice to make vaccinations mandatory for all healthcare workers, bringing states and territories into line with each other. 

The list

“In its dance of fated lovers, its formal expressiveness and go-for-broke delirium, Annette often suggests a bozo version of The Red Shoes (1948), an admitted reach that’s less an exact analogy to Powell and Pressburger’s masterpiece than it is an impression, a feeling. ‘Is there nothing sacred to you?’ Ann screams at Henry at one point, and it’s almost as though Carax – whose last film, the shape-shifting oddity Holy Motors (2012), coursed with the anxiety of cinema in the digital age – is shouting into the modern void right along with her.”

“Before I left Los Angeles I did some investigating into coffee. Research. Believe me, if you start trying to learn about coffee – its geography, its nature – you will never run out of passionate opinions. Many people have gone far deep into the world of coffee. Look, I barely peered in. It was too dangerous. You can get lost in learning about coffee.”

“I ask him how YouTube has changed in the years since 2012. For one, it pays less. Ten years ago, Hales received between $US3 and $US6 per thousand views. Now he gets a third of that. Another shift has been in his audience. In the early 2010s Hales made a name for himself by filming awkward pranks. To heighten his awkwardness, he would often perform hopped up on Adderall. Egged on by the potential payday and an unforgiving fanbase, Hales pushed himself to film more outrageous videos, and more often.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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