Gladys Berejiklian
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

Now we know why Gladys Berejiklian turned a blind eye to Daryl Maguire’s sleaze and grifting at the expense of taxpayers. It wasn’t because she was besotted with Maguire. It was because, seemingly, she believes misusing taxpayer funds is entirely legitimate.

It wasn’t that she allowed her integrity to be besmirched by a romantic mistake — she had no integrity in the first place.

What else to conclude from her defence of what she has now acknowledged was the pork-barrelling of the quarter-billion-dollar Stronger Communities Fund, with nearly all of the money going to Coalition voters only?

“It’s not an illegal practice,” the premier insists. “Governments in all positions make commitments to the community in order to curry favour. I think that’s part of the political process whether we like it or not.”

“It’s not something that I know that the community is comfortable with and if [pork-barrelling] is the accusation made on this occasion … well then I’m happy to accept that commentary.”

Strangely, Berejiklian’s sudden ‘fessing up to rorting taxpayer funds for political purposes, to “curry favour” in her words, only happened after the attempt by her office to cover up the rorting by shredding documents detailing their role in the allocation of the funds — a role they had no legal authority to perform — came undone.

(In a reminder that one should always delete the backup, the documents were retrieved through a forensic IT process.)

If Berejiklian was relaxed about using taxpayer funds for political purposes, why would she care that Daryl Maguire was also misusing taxpayer funds, his office and his connection with her?

The premier plainly thinks she is untouchable; that the absence of any widely-accepted successor and her popularity over the handling of the pandemic — Ruby Princess tragedy notwithstanding — means she can act with impunity, even if it means admitting to voters she uses their money to suit her own political agenda, not for the betterment of NSW.

But however secure Berejiklian thinks her reign is, she rules over a swamp of sleaze and filth. The bad old days of NSW are back, after barely being gone for five minutes: MPs misusing the system for their own enrichment, governments blatantly rorting taxpayer funds for political purposes, cover-ups at the highest level, developers having walk-in access at the highest levels, a workers’ compensation body neck-deep in scandal and a treasurer crippled by his association with it.

Meantime, ICAC begs for more funding to enable it to keep up with the tide of corruption — a request Berejiklian has rejected.

Just a few months ago, Berejiklian commanded respect as a strong, competent, trustworthy leader. Now look at her. Rarely has a political transformation been so rapid — and so complete.