Michael McGowan and Anne Davies had the story on Friday 1 Oct 2021 NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian resigns after ICAC announces investigation:
(Image from Michelle Grattan’s story at The Conversation.)
I think her greater misdemeanor lies elsewhere. However her demise has further trashed politicians and politics in the public mind, opening opportunities for independents, and minor parties in so far as they present as people who are not politicians.
This is not good for democracy.
First, let’s look at the current matter.
Unless ICAC have more than they have yet revealed, it seems to me that she knew that her ex-lover, the former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire, was up to no good, but failed to report him. It’s noteworthy that the relationship “was ended after Maguire was named as a person of interest in 2019 by the commission and was under investigation.” That is, after he was named, and before the proceedings began.
There are other matters relating to a possible conflict of interest in:
- grants to two organisations: the Australian Clay Target Association in 2016-2017, which Maguire had championed, and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Wagga Wagga in 2018.
In this item from the 7.30 Report Anthony Whealy QC, former judge of the NSW Court of Appeal and Chair of The Centre for Public Integrity says that if she was involved in the decision it would represent a clear conflict of interest.
Her stance is clear:
- “I state categorically that I have always acted with the highest level of integrity.”
“History will demonstrate I have executed my duties again with the highest level of integrity for the benefit of the people of NSW, for who I have had the privilege to serve,” she said.
Insisting that she did not want to become “a distraction” for the government as NSW attempted to exit the three-month lockdown caused by an outbreak of Covid-19, Berejiklian said simply standing aside while Icac conducted its investigation was “not an option”.
She says they take too long. This might in part be because they are underfunded.
There has been criticism of ICAC’s timing. I understand that by law they have to ignore timing.
There has also been strident criticism of ICAC itself, with Barnaby Joyce comparing the New South Wales anti-corruption watchdog to the “Spanish Inquisition” and complained that it’s making politicians “terrified to do their job”.
Craig Emerson’s latest AFR column provides a succinct outline of ICAC and the reason why we need such accountability. It’s available in his site as Taxpayers lose by pulling ICAC’s teeth
He points out that in the case of Barry O’Farrell, ICAC made no adverse findings, having been “satisfied that there was no intention on Mr O’Farrell’s part to mislead the Commission.”
Emerson was worked over three times by the Queensland anti-corruption body when he served as a departmental CEO in the 1990s Labor government in what I recall as vexatious allegations by the LNP. Yet Emerson remains:
- a strong supporter of what is now the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission. And of the NSW ICAC. And of a National Anti-Corruption Commission as promised by Labor. And of a Commonwealth Integrity Commission, promised by the Morrison government almost three years ago but still not delivered.
But a commission with teeth, including a capacity to investigate the practice of ministerial offices dishing out taxpayer-funded grants to target electorates as if it were their political party’s own money.
Calls to emasculate anti-corruption commissions portray politicians as the victims. If the critics got their way, taxpayers and their confidence in the political process would be the true victims.(Emphasis added)
Dishing out taxpayer-funded grants to target electorates as if it were their political party’s own money is what I recall Berejiklian doing with the Stronger Communities Fund, where 95% of the total of $250 million grants went to government electorates.
- The inquiry heard that $141.8 million of the grant funding was allocated by the Premier, with $61.3million allocated by the Deputy Premier John Barilaro and $48.9 million by the Minister for Local Government.
Following practice, an amorphous team of public servants working across ministries gathered the approvals, then shredded the documents and deleted the computer files.
- Berejiklian concedes $140m grant scheme was pork-barrelling, but says ‘it’s not unique to our government’
Business as usual, she is saying, nothing to see.
It seemed like Berejiklian had survived on a technicality. I understand Berejiklian’s practice was to approve with a tick or a circle, then the papers were shredded.
Her defence put simply seemed to be (a) that she reckons pork barrelling is common practice, and hence OK, and (b) that no-one instructed the papers to be shredded.
Tony Harris, former NSW Auditor-General and senior Commonwealth officer, was in no doubt. In Maguire aside, the Premier’s steadfast command has been shredded he thought she should resign. He asks:
- How can we have responsible government if we do not have the chain of steadfast command expected in a parliamentary system?
We are moving to a situation where “grants approved by the Premier” merely meant “grants recommended by the Premier” and no-one actually approves them.
With those standards, she should fit in well with the Morrison government, which has normalised industrial-scale pork barrelling.
With tongue firmly planted in cheek, The Betoota Advocate wondered NSW Liberals completely divided over which of the 42 white men named Paul should replace Gladys. Their substantive point was that it was difficult to tell the candidates apart:
- Every single candidate appears to be a devout Christian who likes rugby union and went to one of three elite private schools on Sydney’s North Shore.
It turns out to be Dominic Perrottet:
- a conservative who opposed laws to force priests to disclose child abuse arguing “the confessional seal is sacrosanct no matter what sins are confessed”.
And some very strange ideas about a lot of things. See Conservative warrior, economic reformer, premier? Meet Dominic Perrottet, NSW’s likely next leader and Dominic Perrottet’s controversial past comments revealed as he becomes new NSW premier.
So where does that leave us, and I mean all of us? In brief:
- On COVID he could have let things roll, as after landing in a disastrous mess, Berejiklian seemed to be plotting a steady course to a post-COVID world. However, he believes he can make some adjustments to what Berejiklian and our prime minister told was the best of the class. See NSW roadmap out of lockdown under review.
Small changes, he says, but a big focus on economic recovery.
- While his earlier statements indicate he is a climate change sceptic, he seems to recognise that other people think differently. However, it looks as though the best climate change minister in Australia, Matt Keen, is going to be treasurer. This may be a genuine loss to the nation. We need competent and steadfast state ministers to keep a check on the devious Commonwealth minister, Angus Taylor, whose latest is to support with taxpayer money a gas power-station at Kurri Kurri (NSW can deny him planning approvl) and institute Arena regulations to subvert its purpose which may well be unlawful.
Peter Switzer says Perrottet has seen that there are votes in being green, but it matters who will be environment minister. With John Barilaro and Andrew Constance also heading for the exit door, Perrottet will wait for the by-elections before a full ministerial reshuffle.
- We badly need a national integrity commission to rid the body politic of industrial scale pork barrelling, and other unacceptable behaviour on the public payroll.
Crikey has lined up Angus Taylor, Bridget McKenzie, Peter Dutton, Barnaby Joyce, Josh Frydenberg, Paul Fletcher, Michael Sukkar, Alan Tudge, Susan Ley, and a bloke called Scott Morrison as an initial work program for a national ICAC.
Shadow AG Mark Dreyfus wants a federal anti-corruption body that will have “all the powers of a standing royal commission”, be able to initiate inquiries on its own account, hold hearings in public and be able to examine retrospective cases.
Stephen Charles QC, from The Centre for Public Integrity and former Victorian Court of Appeal Judge, has been part of a study reviewing the proposed federal body against existing state bodies.
He says the proposed body is strong in relation to the AFP and Border Force, but farcically weak for politicians, designed to make no adverse findings. The study found ICAC the most robust and effective of the state bodies. He explains why public hearings, except in exceptional cases, are essential.
The effect of Berejiklian’s demise will increase disaffection with traditional parties, and encourage independents to run. I want to explore this separately, but point out here that being able to leverage outcomes from a balance of power situation seems to me essentially undemocratic. I prefer the German and New Zealand situation, where you need to create a party , plus gain at least 5% of the national vote to get a gig.
States and the Commonwealth need regulations so that monies being dispersed can only happen with an auditable paper trail to show authorisation by an officer with a delegated expenditure authority. It’s public administration 101. I was shocked when security firms were used in Victorian quarantine,only to find that no-one knew who authorised their employment. Seems operating without accountable expenditure authorities is becoming alarmingly common.