The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has released its long-awaited findings into the actions of former New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian and former Member for Wagga Wagga, Daryl Maguire, exposing their involvement in serious corruption.
These findings come as a blow to the former premier, who had been portrayed by some as a victim of circumstance, entangled in a relationship with Maguire. The ICAC report shatters that narrative, revealing a level of corruption that goes beyond personal entanglements. It uncovers a culture of secrecy, cover-ups, and financial improprieties that undermines the integrity of New South Wales politics.
The extensive report reveals that Berejiklian breached public trust by supporting a grant to the Australian Clay Target Association – $5.5 million – and the construction of a hall for the Riverina Conservatorium of Music – $25 million. Additionally, the ICAC recommends that the public prosecutor file charges against Maguire for advancing his own financial interests through land deals and a visa scheme, which could also have ramifications for some former federal Liberal Party ministers.
After nearly two years of criticism and speculation, the release of the ICAC findings brings clarity and validates the suspicions many had about corruption within the New South Wales political landscape. The 600-page report – published in two volumes – delves into various instances of corruption, laying bare the extent of the wrongdoing.
While the ICAC did not recommend charges against Berejiklian, the report strongly criticises her inaction despite being aware of the corruption taking place. Her infamous “I don’t need to know about that” recording, widely circulated, stands as a testament to her misconduct. The report uncovers a cover-up and highlights the urgent need for accountability.
The most corrupt NSW Premier ever
This marks the highest level of corruption among New South Wales premiers, with Berejiklian becoming the third Liberal Party premier found guilty of corruption by the ICAC. The previous instances involved Nick Greiner, whose charges were overturned on a technicality, and Barry O’Farrell, who resigned over a failure to disclose a wine donation; however, the audacity of the corruption in this case is deeply troubling.
Berejiklian’s downfall is particularly tragic, considering her inspirational rise from a young child with limited English proficiency to becoming the state’s premier. However, her acceptance of corruption tarnishes her once-inspiring story, casting doubt on her future employment prospects in Australia. Potential diplomatic positions overseas may be the only viable option – and at some distant point in the future – although the public’s willingness to accept someone with a proven record of corruption as a representative remains uncertain.
Critics from the Liberal Party have been quick to attack the ICAC and its findings, echoing their sentiments even before the report’s release. The reduction of ICAC funding by both Berejiklian and former Premier Mike Baird adds another layer of complexity to the issue. Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who previously criticised the ICAC as a “kangaroo court,” had even considered endorsing Berejiklian as a candidate in the 2022 federal election.
The mainstream media’s portrayal of Berejiklian as a victim has also faced widespread criticism, a level of support which seemed to continue, even after ICAC found that she engaged in serious corruption, preferring to focus on her management of the COVID pandemic, even though there were serious outbreaks that occurred during her time in office, most notably, the Ruby Princess debacle in 2020, and a failure to lockdown early enough in June 2021.
The ICAC report includes 18 recommendations, emphasising the need for changes in New South Wales political culture and mandatory corruption training for parliamentarians. The fact that such training is necessary raises questions about the suitability of these individuals for parliamentary roles if they require instruction on identifying corruption. Wouldn’t it be obvious to most people what corruption is in public office?
The pervasiveness of corruption in New South Wales politics has led to a lack of understanding and acknowledgment of its existence. However, with the ICAC findings now exposed, it is crucial for the state to address this issue head-on and work towards restoring public trust and integrity in the political system.
The corruption in NSW needs to end
The revelations surrounding Gladys Berejiklian’s tenure mark a significant moment in New South Wales politics. It is a stark reminder that corruption is not confined to the shadows but can permeate the highest levels of power. The ICAC’s thorough investigation, despite attempts to discredit it, serves as a reminder of the importance of an independent body holding those in power accountable.
The state’s political culture must undergo a comprehensive overhaul to prevent future instances of corruption and ensure that those who occupy positions of authority act in the best interests of the people they serve.
The road to redemption for New South Wales politics is long, but the exposure of corruption and the ICAC’s in-depth report may serve as a catalyst for change. It is a pivotal moment for the state to re-evaluate its political landscape and strive for a more transparent, accountable, and ethical governance system.