Premier Gladys Berejiklian and NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay slugged it out in Parliament House this week as if their political futures depended on it.
Both NSW political leaders want to deliver a knock-out punch. All observers agree that they are on the ropes and that neither can last the course. The Coalition has lost confidence in Ms Berejiklian and NSW Labor has lost confidence in Ms McKay.
If either leader was to face a party room vote of confidence, they would lose. Ms Berejiklian may scramble together a dozen votes from her MPs while Ms McKay would attract about half of that.
They aren’t being overthrown yet because neither side can agree on a suitable replacement. Party rooms are gripped by inertia – and lack of talent.
Ashleigh Raper, the ABC’s NSW political reporter, epitomises the fast pace of events in Macquarie Street. When Premier Berejiklian dropped a bucket on Ms McKay in question time on Tuesday, she adopted the Coalition’s script and reported that the Labor leader’s days were numbered.
Only a few days earlier, Ms Raper had suggested that the Premier was a lost cause. The Coalition’s script had changed and so had Ms Raper’s.
Cutting through the confected Coalition hysteria, Ms McKay had co-signed a letter for a Tamil refugee to be released. Neither the refugee advocate who sought the letter nor Ms McKay knew that the refugee had been convicted in 2017 of assaulting a 13-year-old girl in 2016 and sentenced to one year’s jail.
MPs are asked for their support for refugees all the time, and it is to Ms McKay’s credit that she signed up. “In providing a cover note for my constituent (a refugee advocate) I was doing what MPs always do,” Ms McKay said. “We are all here to serve our communities and, in this instance, I was simply helping my constituent.” She had signed a pro forma letter which “categorically does not constitute a letter of support”.
She was subjected to a withering attack by Labor’s Hugh McDermott, MP for Prospect, whose Labor heroes are linked to the American CIA, ironworkers’ union leader Laurie Short and NSW Labor Council boss John Ducker.
McDermott, a former soldier who has embroidered his military career and apologised when he was caught out, immediately generated an avalanche of hostile media publicity against Ms McKay claiming she had made a “shocking error of judgement”. McDermott, a serial embarrassment to the ALP, has never made an error of judgement, it seems.
No one asked whether the Coalition would have mounted their orchestrated attack if the refugee was, like Ms Berejiklian, an Armenian. Why did everyone join the Coalition’s racist dog-whistling so enthusiastically?
What was more shocking about the Coalition’s hijinks was that Ms Berejiklian’s long list of corrupt practices – land deals with former minister Daryl Maguire, her secret lover and potential husband – were “forgotten” and Labor’s Jodi McKay became the corrupt leader de jour. You’ve got to hand it to the Coalition managers: in a single question time they managed to shift the spotlight of scandal from the Premier to the Opposition Leader. It was a triumph for Liberal Party hypocrisy and cynicism, and the media fell for it.
Ms Berejiklian’s troubles deepened when the outfit called INSW responsible for infrastructure selection, approval and promotion, announced a “world first”: the only museum deliberately built in a high-risk flood zone – at Parramatta where high velocity floodwaters 2 to 3 metres deep will flow underneath the building creating a memorable spectacle. The cost? The Coalition estimates $840 million, but it will clearly be much more than that.
But wait! There’s more. Premier Berejiklian has another trophy for her mantelpiece. Of the world’s 30 “global cities”, Sydney rates 30th for the number of museums. Surely, that is worth a story in the media?
In the Upper House, a Greens motion by David Shoebridge MP has ordered the Berejiklian Government by 23 votes to 16 to hand over all the documents detailing how it shovelled $177 million in bushfire grants to Coalition-held seats while only a measley 2% went to constituencies held by Labor, Greens or Shooters, Farmers and Fishers (SFF). Only Fred Nile joined the Coalition to vote against transparency and accountability for the bushfire rort.
But it was explosive revelations by Tony Harris, former NSW Auditor-General, which really damaged the Premier. He revealed that documents relating to spending millions of dollars in Coalition seats had been removed by staff and destroyed.
Shredding official documents is tantamount to perverting the course of justice. It is a criminal offence and anyone convicted could be jailed.
But Ms Berejiklian brushed aside the complaints and said – as she always does – that she had done nothing wrong. Really?
If a NSW citizen received $250 million and the ATO asked where it came from, it would be a foolish person who replied that the documents had been shredded. You would end up in jail.
Harris appeared to suggest that the destruction of Cabinet documents had ended Ms Berejiklian’s premiership and she should resign forthwith. The pressure mounts …