THINGS took a Jeff Toobin turn at the NSW Independent Commission Against Conservatives last week when counsel assisting, Ian Robertson, pulled off a line of inquiry about Gladys Berejiklian’s sex life that feminists would have Twitter-fitted about if she was a Labor woman. The grainy zoom video of Robertson asking her ex, disgraced former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, a series of questions about the relationship was invasive and sleazy. Did you love each other? Did you talk about having a child? Did you have a key to her house? Did you have physical intimacies? Was she good in bed? Okay, the last question is made up but that was the sort of adolescent trajectory Robertson was on. Adults understand what a relationship between a man and a woman usually entails. Presumably to delineate a terminus ad quem for the romance in order to establish how long Ms Berejiklian was in this possibly compromised situation, Robertson yesterday asked for a closed session. “I wish to do it by reference to some material available to me which is more appropriately dealt with in private than in public,” he said. That could only mean phone taps of intimate conversation.
While ICAC and its fan base of Gladys haters feel vindicated – her resignation looking less worthy of floral tributes than it did initially – there is no evidence that she committed any offences to enrich herself or her then sweetheart. Whether there is more than a bottle of Barry O’Farrell in not disclosing her relationship with Mr Maguire even as she was adjudicating the merits of his “pain in the arse” panhandling for his constituency – sometimes favourably – is another question entirely. It might seem that the complicating issue is the timeframe of their association – when did they become ‘former’ and just how ‘former’ were they? – but that technicality is unconvincing. When it comes to dispensing monies, the public would not consider the parties to an old affair any less impeachable than the paramours in a live one.
There is something unbecoming and grubby about tapping phones in a democracy. We hear about the gotchas but how many legally worthless hours have been taped on ill-founded suspicion? The argument for such powers is that corruption can only be truly rooted out if there is a star chamber above conventional due process. But that itself is corruption – of the rule of law. Hermann Göring built his power base on phone taps. So did J. Edgar Hoover. These are not great names on the roll-call of liberty. Is cornering an oafish influence-peddler like Mr Maguire worth it? Does having your day in court – if it comes to that – somehow set to rights the compelled, publicised assault you may have endured at ICAC beforehand? No and no. In any case, the worst venality in this country is the out-in-the-open variety. More than $400,000 of taxpayers’ money was gifted to Louise Milligan by the ABC’s managing director but it’s the Liberal lady being interrogated.
But that is where my advocacy for Ms Berejiklian ends. Her crisis control interview with 2GB’s Ben Fordham after her relationship with Mr Maguire was exposed – a transcript of which is included in ICAC Exhibit 497 – blots her reputation more than a grant to a shooting club in Wagga Wagga ever will. It was an absurd attempt to finesse an exegesis of her behaviour wherein – strange to relate – she was both usurious inamorata and Virgin Queen. “I can formally say to people I’ve given up on love,” she claimed. “I’m just going to say I have always put my job first, rightly or wrongly, and that will now continue indefinitely.” All very Elizabethan and convenient. Putting your job ahead of the person with whom you’re sleeping (however “off-again, on-again“) – to the extent that you will not publicly acknowledge him – is not in the least bit noble or wise. A duality perhaps born of worldly ambition out of romantic insecurity, it is sad Ms Berejiklian had to be embarrassed by that tension in so public a way. There is a lot of good in her and she now has a new man. She can start being just a woman rather than a woman trying to stay on top.