Is Gladys Berejiklian waving? No, she’s drowning. Her premiership has been struck amidships by a tidal wave of scandal.
She can run fast but history shows that the scandals, once they start, will run even faster. In this hyper-charged environment, leaking and back-stabbing take over over from loyalty and obedience.
You won’t find integrity among her Coalition colleagues; they are consumed by treachery. Her days are well and truly numbered, and even the dogs are barking it.
I’ve been keeping a list of recent scandals which have plagued her premiership. The list carries the fingerprints of her opponents in the Coalition: they want her out and a fresh Premier in because the name of the game has changed to saving seats. There is no lifeline for Gladys.
The State Archives and Records Authority (SARA) has reported that Berejiklian’s staff broke the law when documents relating to the allocation of $252 million in grants from the Stronger Communities Fund were shredded.
Under the State Records Act 1968, Section 11 requires public officers to retain state records. Did the Premier’s staff know the law or didn’t they care about it?
Another scandal that is closer to home involved her secret partner and lover, Daryl Maguire, Liberal MP for Wagga Wagga. An Upper House inquiry into the Integrity, Efficacy and Value for Money from the Coalition’s grants programme heard that Ms Berejiklian approved a $20 million grant in Wagga Wagga without going through the required approval process. Although Maguire did not personally benefit from the grant, it was announced during the Wagga Wagga by-election that was sparked by his resignation in February.
MPs have already taken evidence that six grants under the Stronger Communities Fund were awarded to projects in Maguire’s Wagga Wagga electorate in 2017 during the secret Berejiklian-Maguire relationship.
Greens MP David Shoebridge, a Sydney barrister, was incensed by the payment of grants to bushfire victims in Coalition seats. Shoebridge said: “For me, this is one of the worst cases of pork barrelling because this money was set aside to help bushfire-ravaged communities across the State. Instead of going on the basis of need, it has clearly been doled out on the basis of political connection.”
Relief funding of $11 million was paid to the Macleay Valley Skydiving Adventure Park, $8.2 million to overhaul the Showground and Racecourse at Casino and $8.25 million to expand Saxby Stadium at Taree.
In the Snowy Mountains region, Treasury money was allocated to two wineries to upgrade their cellar doors, while $3.5 million was used to develop a new cider plant and $3.95 million for casual fruit pickers at the caravan park at Batlow.
Shoebridge argued: “You cannot explain these funding outcomes, other than through the prism of politics. This was a tap on the shoulder process, where people with connection to government got the funds and no one else knew it was available.”
Meanwhile, the heavily Labor and Green region of the Blue Mountains did not get a cent. “The Blue Mountains was savaged by two mega-fires at the end of 2019,” said Shoebridge. “Almost two-thirds of the natural bushland was fire-affected, millions and millions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure was damaged, and houses and businesses were lost. It’s impossible to see how the Blue Mountains did not get a single cent.”
NSW Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro tried to tell MPs that the spread of grants was reasonable and still open to claimants. But his words were ignored by most observers and only intensified demands for a thorough investigation into the distribution of $171 million in the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund.
The ABC’s 7.30 presented by Leigh Sales caught the Premier red-handed paying $5.5 million to the Australian Clay Target Association’s clubhouse and convention centre in Maguire’s seat of Wagga Wagga.
He had been calling for the project since 2005 and when funding finally arrived he drew great praise for his behind-the-scenes lobbying. After Paul Farrell and Alex McDonald’s report was broadcast, a senior Liberal declared that the Premier’s position had become “untenable”. Tony Harris, former NSW Auditor-General, has already condemned the grants rorting and called on her to resign.
ICAC announced this week Daryl Maguire will be recalled to answer questions about his “cash for visa” scam for Chinese nationals wanting to live/work/study or buy property in Australia. Hours later NSW Cabinet Minister John Sidoti, Liberal MP for Drummoyne, resigned after ICAC reported hearings would start at the end of March into corruption allegations. He will sit on the crossbench and cut the Premier’s majority to a wafer-thin one.
Labor MP Kerry Hickey, now 60 and a former milkman, spoke with great political wisdom when he said a Premier on the nose could not stop the avalanche of bad news: “It just keeps coming. Things get worser and worser.”
His language may be laughably mangled but its essential truth isn’t.