Mainstream media has been calling it ‘Gladys’ shock resignation,’ but anyone who has been following what’s been happening behind the very public distraction of the Delta virus outbreaks across New South Wales, may not be all that surprised.
Just hours after the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) announced it would be investigating whether Gladys Berejiklian breached the public trust or encouraged the occurrence of corrupt conduct during her relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire, the Premier of NSW resigned.
End of Political Career
The ICAC investigation is due to begin on 18 October 2021. And for obvious reasons, the right course of action for Ms Berejiklian would be to step down while it is underway. However, she has gone a step further than that by ending her political career, saying she will leave parliament altogether as soon as a by-election for her seat can be held.
The ICAC investigation has been mooted since Ms Berejiklian revealed a secret ‘close personal relationship’ with former NSW MP Daryl McGuire during a separate ICAC investigation last year, into his business dealings while he was the Member for Wagga Wagga.
At the time, serious questions arose about how much Ms Berejiklian knew about the activities, whether she turned a blind eye to these activities, and whether in doing so, she acted corruptly.
In one conversation, Ms Berejiklian is heard saying she “didn’t need to know about that bit” as Maguire discusses his financial interests at Badgerys Creek Airport, and a land deal that would net him a large windfall.
Since then, other investigations have revealed ‘pork barrelling’ and controversial decisions about the allocation of state government grant money, funding for roads, and other taxpayer funded community projects.
In late 2020, Berejiklian’s office was found to have shredded and deleted at least three documents that were related to the distribution of $252 million in Stronger Communities Fund grants, 95 percent of which were allocated to councils in Coalition seats in the lead up to the last state election.
Despite the State Archives and Records Authority (the ‘SARA’) finding that Ms Berejiklian’s office had acted illegally, it decided not to refer the matter for prosecution.
Ms Berejiklian has brushed off many of these scandals, and in her resignation speech insisted “I’ve always acted with the highest level of integrity”. However, in the coming weeks she will have to defend her integrity, reputation and actions before the ICAC inquiry, which will specifically be investigating whether Ms Berejiklian’s private relationship with Daryl McGuire influenced or led to grant funding going to the Australian Clay Target Association in 2016 and 2017, and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in 2018.
Yet, some would say that the number of scandals and allegations of corruption that have surfaced over the past 18 months or so, have already cost her the respect of her constituents across NSW.
NSW Ministerial Code of Conduct
In New South Wales, the conduct of members of Parliament is regulated in part by the Code of Conduct for Members which includes a number of stipulations around:
- Improper influence
- Use of public resources
- Use of confidential information
- Limitation on breach of Code
- Disclosure of interests
- Conflicts of interest
- Upholding the Code
ICAC’s role, as the corruption watchdog is to protect public interest, and to investigate allegations of, and prevent breaches of, public trust.
Who will lead NSW?
A new leader will be elected in the coming days. At the moment, top contenders for the position include New South Wales treasurer Dominic Perrottet and planning minister Rob Stokes.
Whoever ends up in the top job will need to provide immediate stability for New South Wales, as the state prepares to open after three months of lockdowns across Greater Sydney which have not only put a significant strain on the economy, but have greatly affected people’s emotional wellbeing, as well as caused a number of other ‘shadow pandemics’ including a rise in homelessness and domestic violence.
And, still issues remain within the health system itself, particularly with regard to its ability to cope with the ongoing presence of Covid.
The new leader will also have to deal with a public that is completely divided over mandatory vaccinations and whether the heavy presence of police, arrests and hefty fines is the most suitable way to deal with the current health crisis.