Gladys Berejiklian announces her resignation (Image: AAP/Bianca De Marchi)

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption has claimed another premier’s scalp, with Gladys Berejiklian announcing her resignation and departure from politics after the anti-corruption watchdog announced today it was investigating her relationship with disgraced Liberal MP Daryl Maguire.

Berejiklian stated that as she expected ministers under investigation to stand aside while inquiries were completed, she must also apply the same standard to herself but standing aside was not an option in current circumstances, and so accordingly she resigned altogether.

There is a precedent for a NSW premier to stand aside while an inquiry is conducted — Neville Wran did so after calling an inquiry into allegations raised by the ABC in the early 1980s and returned after being exonerated by the inquiry. Needless to say, that was not during a pandemic.

This morning the NSW ICAC announced that it would be extending its investigation into Maguire to include Berejiklian herself, including whether she “engaged in conduct that”:

• Constituted or involved a breach of public trust by exercising public functions in circumstances where she was in a position of conflict between her public duties and her private interest as a person who was in a personal relationship with the then NSW member of Parliament, Mr Daryl Maguire, in connection with: grant funding promised and/or awarded to the Australian Clay Target Association Inc in 2016/2017; and grant funding promised and/or awarded to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Wagga Wagga in 2018; and/or

• Constituted or involved the partial exercise of any of her official functions, in connection with: grant funding promised and/or awarded to the Australian Clay Target Association Inc in 2016/2017; grant funding promised and/or awarded to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Wagga Wagga in 2018; and/or

• Constituted or involved the dishonest or partial exercise of any of her official functions and/or a breach of public trust by refusing to exercise her duty pursuant to section 11 of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988 to report any matter that she suspected on reasonable grounds concerned or may concern corrupt conduct in relation to the conduct of Mr Daryl Maguire; and/or

• Was liable to allow or encourage the occurrence of corrupt conduct by Mr Maguire.

The investigation into Berejiklian relates to matters raised in the media in relation to the administration of grant programs that may have favoured Maguire, with whom Berejiklian was then in a relationship.

The premier revealed almost exactly a year ago in bombshell evidence to ICAC’s inquiry into Maguire that she had been in a “close personal relationship” with the MP until mid-2020 — well after Maguire was sacked from the government after an ICAC investigation exposed his soliciting contributions to help broker property deals.

Berejiklian’s premiership — which began in January 2017 when she replaced Mike Baird — has been a successful one except for two staggering misjudgments. One related to the failure to lock Sydney down quickly enough and hard enough in May this year when the Delta variant arrived via a quarantine breach, leading to a massive outbreak that infected the ACT, Victoria and New Zealand, and which forced a lockdown across all of those places and in Sydney and eventually NSW.

Even so, her government’s hard push on vaccines had seen that outbreak peak and begin to recede, with lower hospitalisation levels than forecast — suggesting she was in a position to survive that error.

The second was her staggering misjudgment in relation to Maguire, a corrupt MP who sought to use every possible contact within the NSW government to make a buck for himself.

Berejiklian readily admitted she’d been naive and had made a mess of her private life, but insisted she knew nothing of Maguire’s corruption. However, their telephone conversations, recorded secretly by ICAC, showed her repeatedly warning him not to tell her the detail about his various schemes.

NSW is a state that has long suffered from serious corruption — the last Labor government produced Ian Macdonald and Eddie Obeid, among others; the Wran government was riddled with corruption, the Askin and previous Liberal governments were famously crooked.

Corruption is the permanent stain on NSW politics and Berejiklian failed to understand that her misjudgments in relation to Maguire were utterly unacceptable in such a state. That failure was all the greater since the O’Farrell, Baird and her own governments also had their share of ICAC inquiries and police investigations — and because she herself had decided that blatant pork-barrelling was acceptable politically, even as her own office shredded evidence of it.

Without those two remarkable misjudgments, Berejiklian could have gone down as a historic leader — a true successor to Nick Greiner, who oversaw a transformation of Sydney’s infrastructure while maintaining strong fiscal discipline, kept the rotten NSW Labor Party out of power for another term, presided over strong climate action and investment in renewables, and who dealt — until mid-2021 — with the crisis of the pandemic calmly and effectively.

But all of those achievements will be permanently overshadowed by her catastrophic failures in relation to Daryl Maguire. It’s a shattering end to what, until 2020, was a glittering career.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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