Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has come to the defence of former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, just a day after the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) revealed its findings of “serious corrupt conduct” against her.
The ICAC investigation, which also focused on former partner and ex-Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire, concluded that Berejiklian had breached public trust between 2016 and 2017 by failing to disclose her longterm relationship with Maguire.
While her conduct was not deemed criminal, ICAC recommended that Maguire be referred to the Director of Public Prosecution.
Appearing on Today, Dutton described Berejiklian as an “absolutely wonderful person” who had made a poor choice in her “bum” former partner.
“I think she has paid a big price [for her relationship]… And her integrity is not in question,” he told show host Karl Stefanovic.
He dismissed the suggestion of her being corrupt, stating, “that’s not the person I know.”
“She’s not a corrupt person,” he said.
“And I think she should hold her head high. She had a bad relationship, as everybody does, and I hope that’s not the defining moment for her because she’s a much better person and we all know that.”
Dutton’s support of Berejiklian echoed in the sentiments expressed by NSW Shadow Health Minister Matt Kean, who acknowledged her breach of the ministerial code of conduct but emphasised his belief in her as a “person of honesty integrity”.
Kean also questioned the lengthy two-year duration it took for ICAC to release its findings, suggesting that the delay and the media spectacle surrounding the report’s release were unnecessary and turned the matter into a public spectacle.
“Why did it take ICAC two years to hand down a finding of something we knew two years ago, and name her seriously corrupt – yet not corrupt enough to refer off to the DPP to face criminal charges?” he told the ABC.
“It shouldn’t take two years for the ICAC to hand down that report … They didn’t need to create all the media circus, which they did – they issued the release date via press release as if it was a Taylor Swift concert.
“Integrity probes aren’t a soap opera, and justice isn’t a show.”
Current NSW Premier Chris Minns has also shared his thoughts on the matter, saying that “nothing in this report takes away from Premier Berejiklian’s handling of the Covid-19 emergency, which I still regard as excellent.”
“It’s important, however, for all politicians … to understand that we must manage conflicts of interest and declare them … my government takes that warning incredibly seriously.”
Minns added that there will always be “bad apples” within the government and supported the ICAC in their investigations. However, he adds that public figures who are under investigation should not feel forced to automatically step down from their roles.
“There may be circumstances where it’s absolutely appropriate because the evidence is overwhelming, but that it shouldn’t happen in an automatic way,” he said.
“People have got a right to have an investigation and the final findings submitted to the public and the parliament before their political life [is] stopped or ended.
“When former Premier Berejiklian made a resignation, we didn’t call for it. I didn’t demand that she step down at the time. I think there’s got to be a discussion in NSW about the ICAC being in existence, undertaking the role that it’s legislated to do, while at the same time allowing for the work of government.”
Mark Speakman, the current leader of the NSW Liberal Party, has also expressed his dissatisfaction with the “unacceptable” prolonged delay in ICAC’s investigation into Berejiklian.
“Gladys Berejiklian led NSW with strength and determination through the most challenging conditions since the Second World War, including a one in a hundred years pandemic and record drought, bushfires and floods,” he said in a statement.
“The Opposition will consider the detailed content and recommendations in this report as expeditiously as possible.
“Daryl Maguire’s actions were a reprehensible abuse of his position.”
It is understood that Berejiklian and her legal team are now reviewing the ICAC’s report and may consider a legal challenge.