scott morrison gladys berejiklian
(Image: AAP/David Gray)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s unequivocal support for Gladys Berejiklian is as arrogant as it is risky. And I say that believing that the treatment meted out to the former New South Wales premier has been sloppy and unfair, with an unwelcome sexist undertone.

But Berejiklian made the decision to step down. That’s history. And she is now sitting on the sidelines waiting for the Independent Commission Against Corruption to hand down its verdict over whether she breached public trust or failed to report “a reasonable suspicion of corruption” by her secret boyfriend, former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire.

The verdict, rightly or wrongly, will dictate Berejiklian’s political redemption. Cleared, she will be hailed a martyr wrongly shamed by an independent commission that warrants a roots-and-all overhaul — or abolition. And she’ll be able to do what she damn well pleases.

But if ICAC finds significant wrongdoing, it will be very hard for her to keep the strong voter support she enjoys. She will be tarred with the ICAC brush, which has already spectacularly stopped the political climb of others. Barry O’Farrell, for example, lost his job over nothing more than a forgotten bottle of wine.

It’s arguable that Berejiklian’s radar didn’t pick up any suspicion of corrupt conduct. That’s her line, and it is perfectly feasible. I can see that. You don’t suspect your partner of wrongdoing. You don’t wake up each morning looking for signs of guilt. And that would make her shortcomings a product of naivety, nothing more. 

But if ICAC disagrees with her evidence, and labels her behaviour anything more than that, it’s a dangerous, dangerous move for the Liberal Party to embrace her so wholeheartedly.

Morrison did more than embrace her yesterday. He painted her as a saint, and left no doubt that he sits with the swag of Liberals who want Berejiklian to knock independent Zali Steggall off her perch in the NSW seat of Warringah, held by Tony Abbott until 2019.

Put this into context. Morrison’s support comes before ICAC — a publicly funded body that looks into misbehaviour by politicians and others — hands down its decision. And before Morrison fulfils the promise he made at the last election to have a corruption body federally.

That’s arrogant. And it shows with enormous clarity that he doesn’t support an independent body looking into decisions made in Canberra. That probably should come as no surprise because if you can’t deliver a promise in three years, you can’t deliver it — and should be judged accordingly.

But Morrison’s support yesterday is also risky, because ICAC’s findings, and the evidence used to support them, will colour the view of voters. The benefit of the doubt will disappear. And Morrison doesn’t seem to care.

His NSW Liberal colleague was treated shamefully, he said, and: “I have no doubt that whatever Gladys sets her mind to, she will be a great success.” 

No suggestion of criminal conduct — “none whatsoever’’ — was directed at Berejiklian, during an investigation set on shaming her, he said.

Strong words. And risky too, if they don’t align with ICAC’s findings and how voters see that.

Politics might be a high-stakes game, but Morrison looks like he has no intention of playing it safe until election day next year. To be honest, he probably can’t afford to play it any other way.

The only factor going in his favour is Anthony Albanese. He might have started announcing policies this week, but only seems to know how to play it safe. 

And sometimes standing for nothing is as bad as standing for the wrong thing.