Corruption may prove to be a sexually transmitted disease if events continue to unwind for Premier Gladys Berejiklian in NSW.
It is insufficient for a state leader to be wilfully unaware of dishonesty, irrespective of the perpetrator being a stranger, colleague, partner or lover.
ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) are the traffic cops at the intersection of personal relationships and public duty, and thus far Berejiklian has tried to avoid a ticket by arguing that she did nothing wrong.
By December 7, Scott Robertson SC will lay out recommendations that could include findings of corrupt conduct, breaches of the ministerial code and more. The affected parties will submit final responses by February 22 and Commissioner Ruth McColl will announce outcomes some considerable time after that.
While the process lumbers along, the premier faces war on two fronts: ICAC, and the public. She brings different strategies to each battlefield. ICAC needs purely rational responses, while the public are being shown unfamiliar emotional angles, for if she emerges tarnished she will need public sympathy to survive.
Long established as a comparatively competent but somewhat remote premier, Berejiklian is busy building a more human image.
Likeability helps survivability. The public war is won and lost with the disengaged. While the observer class and the hapless foot soldiers of the culture wars turn their noisy artillery on one another, the real battle is for the opinion of the uncommitted mass who are busy picking a bargain at Coles, waiting for the bus or fishing off a jetty.
To this indicium populi she’ll either be corrupt and expendable, or humbled, human and forgivable.
She can win public support by reframing the debate from corruption to heartbreak, for there are few who can fail to understand her compromised private position. If having a dud boyfriend is a crime, then 51% of the population have been guilty at one time or another.
This is why she’s been telling a prurient press that she has given up all hope of finding love. “I am an extremely private person and without question, I stuffed up in my personal life,” she told the media.
The agenda shifted from NSW to NSFW with Kyle Sandilands on KIIS FM who, opining that he’d once imagined Berejiklian a lesbian, then talked about her “getting her freak on” with Daryl Maguire.
“Even though you’re the premier and very good at your job, don’t you find that secret sex is the best sex?” queried Sandilands, which the premier dismissed with an awkward laugh.
At 2GB she told Ben Fordham “I was certainly in love with him … but no, he wasn’t my boyfriend. Close and personal is the best way to describe it — after a certain point it became more.”
“Privately there have been tears” she allowed. “It’s excruciating to talk about. I have less dating experience than the average person. I’ve always been focused on my job, work, family and have had no time for anything else.”
This public open-heart surgery was endured while privately dealing with the traumatic end of a relationship and an existential threat to her job. It must be anathema to her — but it may also be the key to political survival.
Which again raises the question: why would decent people commit to the unhappy path of a career in politics?
You start out wanting to change the world, fight your way through preselection by cosying up to locals, win a seat while mouthing party lines, then find yourself in parliament, where your days are consumed by turgid local issues that were not why you chased the gig.
Keep doing that long enough and circumstance may reward you with the title of premier or prime minister. At last you have control, but soon enough you realise you don’t really. To keep your team in power you’re enslaved by opinion polls. If you stuff up you take down all your colleagues too, and the moment you look like doing so they’ll stab you in the back, or very possibly the front.
All while running the risk of having your personal life smeared across an episode of Four Corners.
We demand out politicians be flawless. And nobody is.
Has Gladys Berejiklian succeeded in making herself appear more human since the ICAC revelations? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say column.