A week is a short time in politics. In less than that time, an affair emerged that had lasted five years if you believe Gladys, or seven if you believe Daryl.
‘Hand on heart’ was the Premier’s unfortunate way of swearing how innocent, private, and impermanent her affair was with a Member of the NSW Legislative Assembly. Wherever their hands were, it was a long time before Gladys Berejiklian showed hers and before Daryl Maguire took his out of the public purse. The more about the tawdry tale is dug up, the more of that vulgar sort could and will be said.
Many wronged women have empathised with Berejiklian, and others have rejoiced in her having a bit on the side. At the start, years before her recent appeal to the sisterhood on daytime tv, she used to stress that being a woman premier was irrelevant: it was about being the best for the job. So it is, and that means both on and off the job. Privacy isn’t an excuse, either at State or Federal levels.
Let’s take State first. Berejiklian was liked by NSW punters, because she was a hard worker, she got things done – like having abortion decriminalised – she was there during the bushfires and the pandemic, and she wasn’t on the take and into cover-ups, like some of her predecessors. Now people have begun to take another look.
Voters remember the cracked and demolished Federation houses in Haberfield which were victims of her WestConnex. The cracked and uninhabitable Opal Tower whose residents were ripped off by dodgy certifiers and sub-standard builders. Other apartment blocks whose cheap, flammable cladding could ignite another Grenfell Tower inferno. The light rail line up George Street, completed late and way over budget, which holds up traffic with trams that are twice as long as necessary. The demolished stadium in Moore Park, whose twin was only saved by public outrage. The ‘Ruby Princess’ debacle, with confusion and blame-shifting as bad as Victoria’s. Donations to community organisations in Liberal electorates, bigger than the Federal ‘sports rorts’ over which a Coalition minister lost her job. The second Crown Casino, Parker’s defiant one-finger gesture under construction at Barangaroo. Sidelining the Minister for Planning in her own favour. Facing down the Nationals’ John Barilaro over koala habitat, only to cave in to allow land clearing, coal-seam gas mining, and logging in old-growth forests. And failure to properly fund ICAC, the nemesis of Liberal premiers past.
Even had NSW Liberals seen Darylgate coming, they might have had difficulty in discreetly finding a successor to Berejiklian. Andrew Constance earned public regard during the bushfires, but lost it when he resigned, and then briefly stood for the Federal seat of Eden-Monaro. Dominic Perrotet would be a logical choice, but for his mismanagement of icare and the presence of mysterious American American right-wing activist Edward Yap and an un-named other, both funded by icare, in his office. Don Harwin lost his job for breaking quarantine rules by going to his Pearl Beach house. To Brad Hazzard fell the thankless job of managing the pandemic, which he did. But picky voters may not want to exchange Berejiklian for anyone old, male, or stale. What a difference a few weeks can make to cocks of the walk! Labor Opposition leader Jodi McKay and her colleagues are working on making the Coalition in NSW into a feather duster.
But Darylgate has Federal dimensions too. After claiming Sam Dastyari‘s scalp over Chinese influence, the Coalition may see its ‘foreign agents’ legislation applied to one or both of its own: Maguire and Berejiklian. Maguire’ cash for visas operation, run from his Parliamentary office, broke Federal law, and the implications may reach beyond Berejiklian to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Immigration Minister David Coleman. Maguire’s role in the over-priced sale of land bordering the Badgerys Creek airport site is a Federal matter, and whether Berejiklian chose to hear about it or not, the Premier evidently realised what was involved. Whether or not Maguire got Berejiklian to use her influence with Ministers in Canberra, or with the Prime Minister, over the sale, is one among many questions we need answered.
As well, who knew what about Darylgate and when did they know it? It defies belief that for five or seven years the affair between Berejiklian and Maguire was a secret to all but themselves. Drivers, security staff, police, and officials are not blind, deaf, or dumb, in Sydney, Wagga or anywhere else. Politicians make it their business to know what their leaders and rivals are up to, night and day. That’s the job of the media too. So who imposed the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ rule on all of them?
Decades ago, the press and politicians had a gentlemens’ (sic) agreement that their private lives were their own and off limits. But that private/public wall of silence has long been breached, and governments, hyper-vigilant about threats to ‘national security’, are now delving into everything. The nasty suspicion arises that five or seven years of ‘privacy’ were somehow imposed by Berejiklian herself, whether explicitly or implicitly. If so, that only magnifies her problem: who did she have to appease in exchange for silence? Did that expose her to blackmail? As the Darylgate whirlpool spreads, more than the ex-lovers may risk getting sucked into it.
For now, Berejiklian must be hoping for some distraction which may take the heat off for a while. But when the ICAC inquiry’s findings come out, her time as Premier may be over.
Dr Alison Broinowski AM is an author, former diplomat and academic.