Contributed from New South Wales
Gladys Berejiklian’s The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) probe is starting to reveal some telling realities. The fallout from the impending investigation forced the former Premier of NSW resign.
Mike Baird, who himself was once premier, testified before the ICAC hearing yesterday, and it was implied that as his Treasurer Berejiklian acted improperly and betrayed his and the public’s trust.
She failed to disclose her relationship with former MP for Wagga Wagga Daryl Maguire, who was later exposed by the ABC, as having a corrupt association to a $5.5 million government grant. Further exposures of simliar behaviour followed
During his own ICAC hearing in 2018, Maguire confessed to corrupt behaviour and subsequently resigned from parliament. At a second ICAC hearing last year, Berejiklian admitted her relationship with but denied knowledge about what her lover was up to.
An explosive memo 2016 from a top government adviser showed Gladys Berejiklian’s intervention in Maguire ’s effort to get government funding. This contradicts her earlier testimony and makes it look like the accusation of helping Maguire to obtain funds is established.
Berejiklian may or may not be found to have something to answer for. The ICAC hearing has a way to go yet. At the worst, she may end up with a minor charge and a slap on the wrist. The law does not consider a betrayal of public trust a serious crime underlying this is the institutional cover up of corrupt behaviour woven into the political system.
Corrupt politics has long been endemic in NSW. It’s not too different across the rest of Australia.
Zeroing an enquiry into one or a few individuals can pull attention away from the context that allows and even encourages wrong behaviour doesn’t only fail to solve the problem. It cauterises an awkward moment and throws a rug over the bigger picture.
Take another matter. This one involves the NSW government hiding part of its $25 billion NSW Generations Fund in tax havens, including the Cayman Islands. This scheme, which is now drawing embarrassing attention, was set up by Dominic Perrottet, Berejiklian’s treasurer and her replacement as Premier.
Australia has a long history of corrupt behaviour and a conga line of members of parliament and top officials caught out and forced to quit but get off lightly.
Those caught out are only the tip of the iceberg. The political system is rife with improper ties to big business and opportunities to bribe and take advantage. The mates’ club culture encourages it.
Conduct by politicians for personal gain, or benefit for those who are close to them, by dishonest means, should be a serious criminal offence that carries the prospect of imprisonment. So long as the politicians and institutions walk away from this, they are aiders and abettors and therefore part of the problem.