NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (Image: AAP/Bianca De Marchi)

Can anyone now seriously imagine Gladys Berejiklian staging the kind of face-off she engineered with John Barilaro and his koala-killing mates a few weeks ago?

Of course not. Her political authority is gone. Her moral authority, too. Berejiklian lecturing anyone else about standards of conduct is now laughable. The woman who knew enough to know what she shouldn’t have known when it came to her boyfriend is no longer in any position to criticise anyone else for their poor judgment.

What does she do in the next ministerial scandal? A premier who vacillates between telling the Murdoch tabloids about how she hoped to marry Maguire and insisting to ICAC that the relationship wasn’t intimate or of sufficient status to tell her family about can’t complain about others being jesuitical with parliamentary and ministerial codes of conduct.

NSW is a cesspit, riddled with corruption, infested with shinks, spivs and chancers of whom Maguire is noteworthy only because of his lack of success. It needs a strong leader capable of both personally setting a standard of conduct and of enforcing the standard. Berejiklian is now neither.

That’s why, quietly, she caved in on the koala issue last week, watering down proposed protections on land-clearing crucial to helping the recovery of a beleaguered species at the behest of property developers and farmers eager to raze habitats.

It’s a signal to the Nationals — a party genetically engineered for rorting and abuse of taxpayer money — that they’ll now have a much freer hand in NSW. It’s a remarkable turnaround only weeks after Berejiklian challenged them to put some substance to their constant threats, only for them to engage in an unseemly retreat — including Barilaro, who promptly took four weeks’ leave.

But Berejiklian has been keeping her relationship with Maguire secret since 2015, two years before she became premier. What toll has her secret relationship with a man like Maguire taken on not merely her own personal standards — which appear to have fallen to telling him not to tell her the details about his dodgy deals, and staying in a relationship with him after she was forced to sack him in relation to corrupt conduct — but on her own capacity to enforce high standards of conduct?

Let’s look at the evidence. Her treasurer is mired in the iCare scandal — involving failure to properly pay out policies, an accountability averse government body, sham working arrangements for political operatives in the treasurer’s personal office, and undisclosed conflicts of interest.

The government had its own version of the sports rorts affair with $250 million in grants rorted for electoral purposes ahead of the 2019 election, and a separate scandal over the rorting for partisan purposes of local council grants.

There was also the high farce of Barilaro and Andrew Constance and the Eden-Monaro byelection.

The Berejiklian-Maguire scandal is unusual in that the politician caught up in it seems keen to keep the focus on her private life. As Janine Perrett correctly points out today, Berejiklian used the Murdoch tabloids to give a soap opera gloss to the whole scandal, portraying herself as the “romantically inexperienced” woman who fell for the wrong man, and who has now “given up on love”.

But this has never been about Berejiklian’s taste in men, or that she was unlucky in love, or inexperienced at dating, or anything else that seems to infantilise the most powerful person in the state. It was always about what she knew about what Maguire was up to, and her apparent willingness to turn a blind eye as he set out to exploit and use his office as an MP to get him and his mates rich.

It was always about her judgment, the judgment of the person who, from 2017, occupied the key role in the two century-long battle against sleaze in NSW. How can she be taken seriously in that role ever again?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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