Gladys’ arrogance paves the way for Federal ICAC

The most remarkable thing about the revelation of Gladys Berejiklian’s love life was that it was remarkable at all.

Credit – Unsplash

It is quite incredible that every person in the Macquarie Street bubble – government, opposition, staff, journalists, lobbyists, innocent bystanders – was completely oblivious to the fact that once the day’s work was over, the premier and her paramour would regularly go off for a bit of bonking in the background.

The New South Wales parliament is a seething cesspit of rumour and gossip, constantly skimmed in the hope of finding even a breath of scandal that can provide material for political advantage or just to make a good story in the dining room or the bar.

Secrecy is a non-starter, discretion unheard of. And yet apparently there was not even a hint that this sexiest of yarns was all but being hand-delivered to the hundreds who walked past it every day.

And while the press gallery was uninterested, others at least had a suspicion that something was going on. In Daryl Maguire’s electorate of Wagga Wagga some of his constituents speculated that their local member might be getting a bit on the side during his trips to Sydney, although they never dreamt he was going all the way to the top, and how intense it had become.

This was not a one night stand, a quick grab at a bit of rough trade after a hard day at the office, it was, as Berejiklian and the Independent Commission Against Corruption agreed to call it, a close personal relationship – but not an intimate one, not a partnership. Because that would have embroiled the premier in her own code of conduct. Even there she was being watchful and cautious.

But obviously not cautious enough once the two of them got together in what they hoped was privacy. While the media missed the long-standing affair for more than five years, the ICAC uncovered it with speed and efficiency: Berejiklian was not only raunchy but rash, not only embracing Daryl Maguire’s body, but tolerating, if not encouraging, his highly questionable morals.

And as no one knew – or at least wanted to know – there was no one to warn her that she was walking the finest of lines between her personal and public life. She was aware – she must have been aware – that her lover was a chancer and a wide guy long before he was sprung by the Commission. But she chose to ignore the reality, even after it became devastatingly public.

Such was her self assurance – her ego, her arrogance – that she believed that she could remain aloof from his shenanigans,  although he constantly paraded them in front of her. Whatever she precisely meant by the disclaimer “I don’t need to know about that bit” it could hardly be taken as a declaration of Maguire’s probity and innocence.

And this is where she fails the pub test. No one is accusing her of anything more than insouciance – there is no suggestion that she got herself further involved than listening to his delusional boasting. But she could have, and should have, stopped him. Even if she was unwilling to report him to the ICAC, encouraging him – continuing the close personal relationship – was simply unacceptable.

And it is clear that Maguire thought there was still potential profit  in keeping her on the hook – introducing her to shysters and spivs, handing out her private contacts to his clients, trying to pique her interest in his dodgy enterprises.  And the besotted premier never told him to just shut up and piss off.

Berejiklian is a successful politician, a competent premier; Scott Morrison called her his gold standard, which is probably fair enough given the bin full of cardboard cutouts he has to work with in his own ministry. But she is not Saint Gladys, some kind of immaculate conception, as her over-the-top supporters are now trying to portray her.

She has stuffed up, and not just in her choice of lovers. Her political judgement has been frankly appalling. And worse, she is utterly unrepentant. A cursory apology, a brief expression of regret – but no admission that she has actually done anything wrong or that there is a need for restraint and reform.

So presumably there won’t be any. She has no intention of resigning and her Liberal colleagues are too cowered to do anything more than mumble in backrooms. Maguire will bluster his way through the ICAC and Berejiklian will bluster her way through the parliament. And the long-suffering public will wonder anew why there always seem to be different rules, different standards, between the elite and the rest of us.

The smarties don’t take the law seriously – it is a game to be played with lawyers and loopholes, the aim of which is to win at all costs, none of the namby pamby nonsense of waiting for his captain to smite contestants on the shoulder and remind them to play up, play up and play the game.

Maguire was blatantly corrupt and he knew it – the excruciating details being teased out at the ICAC make that horribly clear. But he had no compunction in pushing past the limits –who needs ethics co when you have protection at the highest level of government. Maguire was quite literally in bed with the premier. From his perspective, that made him invulnerable.

And while Berejiklian was determined to keep herself at arm’s length, to turn a blind eye, she could not avoid being drawn into what is delicately called a climate conducive to corruption. Whether she admits it or not, she was irrevocably entangled in the net. Maguire and his croneys obviously believed that if they pushed hard enough, favours would fall their way.

As far as we know, they didn’t. And thanks to ICAC, there is no risk of them doing so. ICAC does not and should not make and enforce laws; that is for the elcted politicians. Its role is to expose corruption, and in this case it has been spectacularly successful.

Tough on Gladys Berejiklian, whose reputation – if not her career – has suffered collateral damage. But undeniably in the public interest. Which is why Scott Morrison and his coterie are so unwilling to allow any such body within arms length of the federal government. The national interest seldom coincides with their own.

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Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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