"Is she the first woman to be let down by a guy? She’s human.”
“We all know women who have been blinded by love.”
“Who doesn’t have a dud ex-boyfriend.”
These sentiments have been coming thick and fast from sections of politics and the media since the news broke on Monday, from the ICAC witness stand, that Premier Gladys Berejiklian was in a ‘close personal relationship’ for five years with disgraced former Wagga Wagga MP, Daryl Maguire. A relationship, she admitted, only ended last month after she was briefed by the ICAC on the full extent of corruption allegations against him.
For all the salacious gossip, innuendo, and speculation that has erupted since then, you could be forgiven for thinking this story was pulled from a gossip column rather than an anti-corruption inquiry.
Commentators in the media and politics, whom you’d think might know better, have initially seemed to care more about the romantic drama than the corruption scandal. Op-eds, tweets, and Facebook posts featuring snide references to “boyfriends” and “lovers” or, worse still, suggesting that Gladys could do better in the romance department, as if seeking to turn this into some kind of nauseating girl power homily, abounded.
Even the NSW Opposition, despite having the most to gain from nailing the Premier to a corruption tag, have made disappointing choices in this regard, with Jodi McKay referring to the saga as Gladys’ “dirty little secret”.
Given how boring the world of politics so often is to the general public, it’s understandable that revelations about our Premier’s secret love life captured attention the way it did.
It’s also understandable, albeit humiliating, that Berejiklian and her team have decided that spinning this story into ‘unlucky-in-love victim duped by bad boy’ is worth wearing to avoid the greater cost of losing her job.
Because it is spin. We’re expected to believe that the Premier is capable of running a state but incapable of recognising potential corruption in office because she had feelings for someone?
Here are the salient facts:
Berejiklian knew Maguire was $1.5 million in debt and working on a deal in Badgerys Creek to pay it off. When he told her a land deal was done, in a 2017 taped phone call, she said “I don’t need to know about that bit.”
She knew as far back as 2014 that Maguire was getting commissions for brokering property deals and advocating for developers, and even congratulated and advised him in texts.
She knew Maguire took a property developer to her office and to a meeting in the Road Minister’s office, which she denied until ICAC played the taped call where he told her.
She knew Maguire was directly involved in a deal between an agriculture business outside his electorate and a Chinese company, even advising him on how to push the Trade Minister to help.
All of this should, at the very least, have raised enough red flags for her to refer him for breaches of the Ministerial Code of Conduct. The fact that she didn’t raise the alarm, even when he was forced to resign from her government in 2018 after admitting he sought payment to broker a deal for a property developer, is utterly inexcusable for someone in her position.
No matter if they were lovers, just good mates, or weekend tennis partners.
Either her judgement is so easily compromised that she is unfit for office, or she wilfully turned a blind eye to corruption and should be sacked.
For the record, Gladys Berejiklian is a smart, experienced, canny political operator who is clearly aware of the legal obligations and ethical responsibilities befitting the highest office in the state, as well as the importance of public perception.
To pretend otherwise - that she’s just another hapless woman taken advantage of by a man - is not only an insulting condescension to women, it’s an erosion of our democracy.
Gladys Berejiklian is a woman with agency who should, as feminists have long argued, be treated equally before the law and in the court of public opinion. That means we give her credit for her achievements, such as her widely-praised response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and penalise her for her mistakes – and they don’t come much bigger than this.
The scandal from the ICAC is not about Gladys’ “dirty little secret”. It’s about NSW’s dirty big secret – that despite decades of inquiries, scandals, resignations, and even incarcerations of parliamentarians across the aisle, money continues to grease the wheels of power in Macquarie Street. Members, ministers, and even premiers can be bought and sold.
The least we can do is call it what it is – corruption.
Forget about whether Gladys deserved better. The people of NSW deserve better.
Chloe Smith is a feminist, trade unionist, and member of the NSW Left Twitter