It’s been the biggest question of the week — will Gladys Berejiklian stay?
Three days have passed since the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) heard that the NSW premier had maintained a secret relationship with former MP Daryl Maguire, who is at the centre of a corruption investigation.
Since then, Berejiklian has survived two no-confidence motions in parliament, is adamant she’s done nothing wrong, and vows to soldier on.
Publicly, ministers are showing their support. But according to The Australian, some in the party are preparing for a quiet, bloodless handover, the kind where Berejiklian steps down to avoid being a “distraction”.
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How long will it take for the discontent around Berejiklian’s relationship with Maguire bubble into politically-terminal distraction territory?
History provides us with a little guidance on what could happen next.
NSW ICAC has scalped two premiers. Most recently, Barry O’Farrell resigned literally within minutes of ICAC revealing a hand-written note thanking an Australian Water Holdings executive for giving him a $3000 bottle of Grange he’d denied receiving the day before.
O’Farrell called it a “massive memory fail” and hurried out the door, even though the commission would later clear him of corrupt conduct.
Nick Greiner, the premier who created ICAC, took slightly longer.
On June 19, 1992, the commission found he’d acted “contrary to known and recognised standards of honesty and integrity” by appointing a former Liberal MP to an executive spot on the Environmental Protection Agency.
Greiner tried to fight it out, lodging a court case which he later won, but was forced out by June 24, under pressure from crossbench MPs propping up his minority government.
More recently, Queensland deputy premier Jackie Trad stepped aside from ministerial duties the day after the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission began investigating her allegedly dodgy appointment of a new school principal. Trad has now been cleared, but her future remains unclear.
As these examples show, how long a politician can withstand the heat really depends on specifics of each situation — third-party pressure (in Greiner’s case), factional alliances and public perception, Australian National University political historian Frank Bongiorno said.
For Berejiklian, the delicate balance of factional interests and warring egos which have simmered beneath her otherwise stable leadership could prove costly.
“I would’ve thought what’s critical in her case is she’s a moderate who’s clearly clashed with the Nats and the right over a number of issues,” Bongiorno said.
“Like abortion and koalas, there’s been a range of challenges to her authority which could make her position vulnerable.”
But there’s also a sense that the bar has been raised for what constitutes career-ending behaviour. In the Howard government’s first term, seven ministers quit over ministerial impropriety, owing in part to a tougher ministerial code of conduct which was subsequently watered down.
Now, senior politicians seem able to withstand anything without becoming a “distraction” to the party — see Angus Taylor’s long rapsheet. When Bridget McKenzie resigned from cabinet over sports rorts, it took nearly a month, reflecting a trend toward slower political demises.
“It’s common for the government to keep them for a little bit and give the impression that they’ve been removed at the instigation of the prime minister rather than at the instigation of the media,” Bongiorno said.
We’re now in day four of Berejiklian’s ICAC news cycle. And even with some past precedent, we’re no clearer about if and when she’ll go.