NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s shock resignation on Friday was based on the issues of honesty and integrity – the same values the Australians say they want in their politicians.
At a media conference announcing her resignation as Premier and from Parliament, Berejiklian said it was in response to news that the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was investigating her.
She pointed out that she has always maintained that any of her parliamentary colleagues who were the subject of allegations and being officially investigated about issues related to ethics and integrity should step aside during that investigation.
“That same standard must apply to me,” she said, adding that it was a decision that “pained her” and went against her instincts.
She was responding to an ICAC announcement that it would hold public hearings later this month to investigate the former Premier’s involvement in grant funding promised and/or awarded to the Australian Clay Target Association Inc in 2016/2017; and grant funding promised and/or awarded to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Wagga Wagga in 2018 – during the period when she was in a personal relationship with then-MP, Daryl Maguire.
ICAC is looking to establish whether her actions:
- Constituted or involved a breach of public trust by exercising public functions in circumstances where she was in a position of conflict between her public duties and her private interest as a person who was in a personal relationship with the then NSW member of Parliament, Daryl Maguire, in connection with: grant funding promised and/or awarded to the Australian Clay Target Association Inc in 2016/2017; and grant funding promised and/or awarded to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Wagga Wagga in 2018; and/or
- Constituted or involved the partial exercise of any of her official functions, in connection with: grant funding promised and/or awarded to the Australian Clay Target Association Inc in 2016/2017; grant funding promised and/or awarded to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Wagga Wagga in 2018; and/or
- Constituted or involved the dishonest or partial exercise of any of her official functions and/or a breach of public trust by refusing to exercise her duty pursuant to section 11 of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988 to report any matter that she suspected on reasonable grounds concerned or may concern corrupt conduct in relation to the conduct of Daryl Maguire; and/or
- Were liable to allow or encourage the occurrence of corrupt conduct by Maguire.
The ICAC is also investigating whether Maguire used his position as a member of the NSW Parliament to gain an improper benefit for himself and his associates.
At a brief media conference, Berejiklian insisted that she had always acted with “the highest level of integrity” and in the best interests of the people of NSW.
But she said she had no choice but to resign. Stepping aside was not an option given that certainty was needed during the times NSW was experiencing.
She added she would formally resign once a replacement Premier has been finalised. She said she would also resign from NSW parliament as soon as a by-election to replace her as the member for Willoughby could take place.
Whether Berejiklian will be vindicated remains to be seen. Yet, her professed stance that political leaders should be “above reproach” will resonate with most Australians.
That said, the qualities of honesty, integrity and accountability are not ones Australians have come to expect from our politicians.
Earlier this year, the ABC’s ‘Australia Talks‘ Survey revealed that 89 per cent of Australians surveyed confidently agree “most politicians in Australia will lie if they feel the truth will hurt them politically”.
Similarly, 56 per cent casually agree that “Australian politicians are often corrupt”. And 59 per cent of respondents disagreed with the proposition that “politicians in Australia can generally be trusted to act in the interests of the people they represent”.
“Public trust in politicians has been eroded over time, some of that erosion is due to their propensity to lie and the lack of accountability.” – Zali Steggall
The same survey revealed that Australians did not accept that dishonest behaviour from politicians was acceptable, however prevalent they believed it to be.
A convincing 98 per cent of those surveyed said they firmly believed politicians should resign if they took a bribe. And, 95 per cent said a politician should resign if they misled parliament.
Independent MP for Warringah Zali Steggall is one politician attempting to champion the values of honesty and integrity in politics. Stegall introduced a private member’s “Stop the Lies” bill to prevent lies and misinformation in federal election campaigns at the end of August.
“Public trust in politicians has been eroded over time, some of that erosion is due to their propensity to lie and the lack of accountability,” Stegall told the parliament.
Stegall says that, at present, no law prevents politicians and political parties from lying during an election campaign – something both major parties have been accused of doing in recent years.
“I think this is vitally important for our democracy and over 87 per cent of the Australian public agree that truth in political advertising should be passed,” Stegall said.