Gladys Berejiklian’s resignation is a symptom of a much bigger corruption problem

Gladys Berejiklian
By Adam Carton

The sudden resignation of New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian was always on the cards. Allegations of being associated with corruption have been around for a time, and the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) decision to probe into a breach of public trust when she awarded grants to several community organisations between 2012 and 2018. This brought matters to a head and the rest is now history.

Berejiklian announced her intention to resign as premier and as a member of parliament at the end of last week.

ICAC’s case revolves around a matter of conflict between the public duties on the premier and private interests.

Berejiklian is alleged to have wrongly awarded grants to the Australian Clay Target Association in Wagga Wagga and to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music also in Wagga Wagga, at the time when  boyfriend Daryl Maguire was the local member of parliament.

Photo from the West Australian: Daryl Maguire

In 2018 Maguire resigned in disgrace over this. A wounded Berejiklian has limped on till now.

They are small time cases, compared to other deals awarded. Being the premier with political enemies has made her position more difficult. One shouldn’t discount the effect of the handing of the Covid breakout and her stoushing with Scott Morrison as factors in her fall.

But the risk is that hanging a leading politician as a bad egg could cover that corruption is a much bigger problem than the late premier.

Corruption could accurately be called the other epidemic facing Australia. Recent times have seen an unprecedented wave of politicians caught out and forced to quit. There are a host of allegations over the awarding of government contracts, at both the state and federal levels, and it extends into local politics.

Something is seriously wrong.

This is why so many pushed for an ICAC in New South Wales, and there is a push for a federal ICAC.

Any investigation worth its salt, must take on the relationship between big business and government. Those running the corporations don’t make donations and spend big money on lobbyists easily. They expect a return for the investment. If this is ignored, any investigation findings will be used as a whitewash or ignored, if they prove to be awkward.

Corruption is about much more than awarding certain contracts and pocketing money dishonestly. It is founded on an outlook that elevates personal gain above all else. Corrupt behaviour can also take on softer forms. Abuse of the perks of office, paving the way for a career change after politics, and ignoring wrongs are some examples.

Once these are endemic it’s a slippery path downwards.

Not long ago the Royal Commission into the banks reported evidence based widespread misbehaviour. The political elite swept it under the carpet and nothing has been done. The leaked Panama papers revealed how widespread corruption and tax evasion is in Australia. Nothing was done about this either. We have just had the scandals over the giving of money without proper process to gas companies. Business goes on as usual.

Nothing is going to change, unless the people of Australia make it happen.

The fall of Gladys Berejiklian may be a positive turn of events, although we must never lose sight of the bigger scandal.

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