It's a hard pill to swallow, but it's time to dismantle Berejiklian's pedestal

‘I’ll throw money at Wagga’: It’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s time to dismantle Berejiklian’s pedestal

Gladys Berejiklian

A month on from Gladys Berejiklian’s shock resignation as NSW’s Premier and there are still many mourning the loss. Considering the ferocity of the initial furore, it’s not surprising.

Many Australians felt NSW ICAC’s investigation into Berejiklian was unreasonable, ill-timed and ultimately fruitless. They assumed that Berejiklian’s adamant position that she had always acted with “integrity” was gospel. They gripped onto the theory that the former Premier was the victim of a toxic relationship with a dodgy dealer, rather than complicit in the corrupt schemes of former boyfriend, Daryl Maguire.

Petitions were signed to have her reinstated. Flowers were sent to her office and home in Sydney’s north shore en masse. People posted messages of support and solidarity on their social media pages full of real, heartfelt emotion. The response was unprecedented.

Why? Because, in many ways, Gladys Berejiklian was a political anomaly. I’ve written before that there are countless aspects to her leadership and her person that I admire. She wasn’t cut from the same cloth as most who held the NSW Premiership before her. She was a migrant, woman who regularly exuded empathy, and understanding. She connected with her constituents and we trusted her.

But following the events of yesterday, and the damning evidence that’s come to light following ICAC’s probe into Daryl Maguire, including released telephone conversations between he and Berejiklian, we need to let go of that trust. We need to accept the fact that Gladys Berejiklian enabled Daryl Maguire’s misconduct, and she let us down.

For anyone needing a recap, Maguire was interrogated by the anti-corruption watchdog yesterday, in which the commission heard evidence that Berejiklian passed on information to her partner about projects he had lobbied for in his electorate, and continued speaking to him after his resignation following a separate ICAC inquiry in 2018.

In conflict with Berejiklian’s prior claims that their relationship had been nothing of “substance”, Maguire revealed that the pair had been in love, that he’d had a key to her house and that they’d discussed having children.

Tapped phone calls revealed he gave Berejiklian advice on which projects she should allocate funds to in order to keep the seat after his resignation.

“Just throw money at Wagga,” Maguire said in a call on July 30, 2018.

“I’ll throw money at Wagga, lots of it, don’t you worry about that,” Berejiklian replied.

She then urged Maguire to “do what’s right on your end, otherwise you’ll kill me”.

Maguire told the commission he believed that to be a directive that he should “shut up and stay out of the campaign”.

In the same call, Berejiklian suggested that Maguire had “already” told her the “top three things” to fund in his electorate. When Maguire complained that one of the proposals – funding for a stadium – had been blocked by “bureaucrats”, Berejiklian said simply: “I can overrule them”.

In a separate call between Maguire and the Liberal Party’s candidate to replace him during the 2018 by-election, Julia Ham, he confirmed that a “source” had promised him that the seat would receive a multi-million dollar grant to build a music recital hall for the conservatorium, a project he had personally lobbied for.

When queried about who the “source” was, Maguire replied: “Oh, it’d be from Ms Berejiklian”.

This evidence doesn’t just signal red flags, it signals blatant wrongdoing.

Yes, we can lament the fact that there are scores of men in Parliament right now who have done worse. How many times have we seen ministers at the federal level have their dirty work covered up?

But taking this simplistic line of defence, does a disservice to us all. Corruption in Australian politics is rife, and we deserve more. We deserve those at the top– at the local, state and commonwealth level– to represent our interests with ethics and integrity. We desperately need a federal ICAC.

Integrity was not what Gladys Berejiklian displayed during her relationship with Daryl Maguire. Was she bullied by a relentless, self-described “pest”? Possibly. But should she have put her foot down when lines were clearly crossed? There’s no doubt.

And while I would never vie for her to be hauled over the coals forever, it’s time we dismantled her pedestal.

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