Mourn for Berejiklian & the all-male affair that remains if you need

Mourn for Berejiklian if you need, but it’s the lack of integrity elsewhere that really stings

The men who’ve been lining up to replace former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian haven’t exactly been an eclectic mix.

We now look set to have two in the race: Dominic Perrottet and Rob Stokes (Perrottet is expected to win the Tuesday ballot). While from different Liberal factions, they’re both staunchly religious. Perrottet is 39 and a married father of six, quoting John Paul II in his maiden speech, “As the family goes, so goes the nation.” Stokes is 47 and a married father of three. He has a diploma in biblical studies.

Both voted against the abortion decriminalization bill in 2019. Both like jogging together through Sydney at lunchtime. 

And both men have a shot at becoming the next Premier of NSW after Berejiklian resigned from the position on Friday, following revelations the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) would be investigating whether she breached public trust when she was in a relationship with the disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire

Perrottet and Stokes’ conservative views and similar backgrounds will be yet more salt in the wounds many (but definitely not all) people — and women particularly — in NSW feel regarding Berejiklian’s departure. 

But the bigger sting may well be seeing Berejiklian’s ICAC-eyeing sins of being in a “close personal relationship” for five years with Maguire — with ICAC investigating whether she “allowed or encouraged” Maguire’s conduct, which included benefitting from grant programs and deals — against the backdrop of what’s been occurring in Federal parliament.

It’s been more than 1000 days since Prime Minister Scott Morrison committed to establishing a Commonwealth integrity commission, but the legislation is still sitting with the Attorney General’s office, now held by Senator Michaelia Cash. In the past 1000 days, we’ve heard countless stories indicating misuse of taxpayer dollars and grant programs.

Just to name some highlights:

  • The ‘sports rorts’, with the $100 million sports programs that favoured marginal and targeted seats.
  • The ‘regional rorts’, with the $220 million Regional program that saw ministers overturning departmental advice and records destroyed.
  • The ‘road rorts’, where 83% of a $3 billion road fund going to Coalition and marginal seats.
  • The ‘car park rorts’, with car parks built near train stations overwhelmingly favouring stations in Liberal seats.
  • The mysterious bucket of money that paid for Christian Porter’s legal fees.

The list goes on.

As such, if you do wish to mourn the loss of Berejiklian, then do so proactively. Get behind the push for a Federal version of ICAC, where there are even more significant issues to prosecute. But also consider just what this state ICAC is investigating.

Indeed, the mourning has been swift. It came from some of the most unlikely of quarters, including Labor’s Tanya Plibersek. Flowers and cards have been left outside Berejiklian’s electoral office. Memes have been shared across social media thanking the former premier. Women have been sharing selfies of that key moment they had a conversation with the former premier, or watched her speak at an event. 

It’s certainly tough seeing another female leader brought down so quickly, especially like this. 

And especially now, the timing is awful and painful. 

After all, why not enable a premier to see through the vaccination targets and their immediate aftermath? NSW people had someone steering the ship. We haven’t all agreed with her decisions. She’s made mistakes. But we’re heading towards the climax of a massive public health crisis and there are strong arguments to have had the captain see us through to at least the next stage. 

Still, ICAC has a reason for its investigation. And Berejiklian has resigned because of really, really bad misjudgment that goes beyond having “bad taste in men”. As we’ve noted before, painting her as an unknowing victim of picking the wrong guy is an insult to her intelligence.

So will ICAC’s investigation ultimately overshadow the love and appreciation some people feel?

The love is there because, for all of her mistakes, Berejiklian has been seen a being a leader in control. We saw it during our reader survey at the end of 2020, asking participants to name the leaders they’ve most admired during the first year of the Pandemic. Berejiklian came up in the top five names shared.

What many saw was a premier who showed up (at least until she changed the structure of the press conferences in the past couple of weeks). A premier who communicated, who was frank and open and prepared to drop truth bombs towards her own party brand. We saw a premier managing a city utterly failed by the Federal Government’s key responsibility during the pandemic — the vaccine rollout — and at one point devoid of any hope of getting vast parts of the population vaxed.

Many also saw a rare woman at the helm, surviving through what we know to be the most toxic of environments amongst a sea of white men: NSW state politics. Many then saw a woman’s time in such a job cut short due to forces we couldn’t completely see or understand.

Those forces were ICAC. And if this is the power of a state ICAC — bringing down a Premier as she was due to see out the key stages of the pandemic — just imagine what such a Federal body could do.

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