When NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian revealed her five year ‘personal relationship’ with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire at this week’s ICAC, she suggested she’d been oblivious to his several misdemeanours.
“At all times I have maintained a distinction between my personal and private life and the public office I hold,” she said.
She did however concede she had “stuffed up” her personal life.
“Where I have failed is in my personal life, and I accept that. I take full responsibility for that,” she said.
“But I want to make this assurance to the people of New South Wales — I have always put the public first. I have always made sure the public interest is first and foremost paramount in every single thing that I do.”
It was a line accepted by Australia’s media and backed up by various commentators and colleagues including Prime Minister Scott Morrison who declared emphatically that Berejiklian retained his “absolute support”.
“Gladys is a tremendous Premier and has my absolute support, and I thought she showed a lot of courage yesterday, but I also thought she showed a lot of humility,” he said. “We are all human, and particularly in those areas of our lives, and Gladys is an extremely private person and a person of momentous integrity, a great friend.”
Malcolm Turnbull shared this sentiment, gushing that Berejiklian’s only crime was that “she fell in love with the wrong guy.”
Of course, as humans, we are all fallible. Mistakes will happen no matter how hard we fight against them. It’s just in this case, Berejiklian’s mistake wasn’t just “falling in love with the wrong guy”, it was turning a blind eye to his dodgy deals because it interfered with her personal motives.
The ICAC hearing was illuminating. A series of intercepted phone calls were played during her appearance and exposed Maguire telling the Premier he stood to benefit considerably if land owned by racing heir Louise Waterhouse near the new Western Sydney airport was rezoned.
The payment would be enough to pay off “about half” of his $1.5m personal debt, Maguire relayed in one phone call.
She responded: “I don’t need to know about that bit,” to which Maguire hastily agreed, “no, you don’t”.
In another released text message exchange between the pair, Berejiklian was shown to have congratulated and celebrated Maguire’s excitement over making a sizeable commission.
‘Hawkiss good news. One of my contacts sold a motel for 5.8 million I had put her in contact so I should make 5k,’ he wrote.
‘Congrats!!! Great news!!! Woohoo’, she replied.
Documents tendered to the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Tuesday also showed an email sent by Louise Waterhouse to Berejiklian was deleted from her personal account before corruption investigators could retrieve it, with the Premier’s chief of staff Neil Harley suggesting she “had no recollection of deleting the email.”
The evidence is damning. To argue that Berejiklian could have been oblivious to Maguire’s questionable conduct for five long years is frankly an insult to her intelligence– and our own.
Certainly, the Premier may not have been involved directly in any of Maguire’s schemes. We will find out soon enough when he gives evidence at ICAC himself. I hope that’s the case, because I’d like to believe there’s a pathway out for a woman I’ve long admired.
In recent days, a number of commentators have lamented Berejiklian being judged more harshly for a personal indiscretion than any man would be. But the real gender stereotype and injustice in this picture, is our framing of Berejiklian– a razor-sharp, shrewd leader– as love-sick to the point of witless.
Berejiklian would have known that something smelt off. She should have disclosed her relationship — a prerequisite under the NSW ministerial code of conduct– and cut ties with Maguire more quickly than she did. God knows, she deserved better.
No one is arguing that two consenting adults shouldn’t be free to engage in any relationship they wish to. But Berejiklian’s judgement lapsed during a critical period in which she was leader. Her personal life encroached on her public responsibility. And now, to the disappointment of many, (myself included) she must face the music.