I smiled at the Bolt Report’s wintry chyron last night – “Love does not excuse corruption” – as the man himself editorially endorsed the bunyip Berias of NSW ICAC who eavesdropped on, endlessly investigated and fraudulently condemned Gladys Berejiklian for her “serious corruption” in 2016-17. The then Premier’s backing for an electorally advantageous gun club and conservatorium in the Wagga Wagga seat of her secret boyfriend, MP Daryl Maguire, was so ‘serious’ that the commission admitted that no financial benefit was sought or gained by her and that nothing she did resembled a prosecutable crime. The findings in ICAC’s Operation Keppel report about Maguire’s leveraging of official business for personal profit may be more serious but only for him. “I’ve raised concerns about Tucker Carlson painting Ukraine as hopelessly corrupt and the Biden White House as liars,” Bolt wrote in April – presumably with a straight face. Ukraine is, in fact, officially one of the most corrupt nations in Europe and its president was named in the Pandora papers as an offshore cash hoarder. Love doesn’t excuse corruption, Andrew. If an Australian journalist is unwilling to dob on stranger Volodymyr Zelensky, Berejiklian’s failure to end her career and relationship by shopping an unethical beau to police deserves a measure of sympathy.
I have no loyalist’s brief to defend a former Premier who proved only slightly less indifferent to liberty and scientific reason than Labor loonies during the ‘pandemic’ and whose passive attitude to abortion law ‘reform’ in 2019 was deplorable. Nor does being a woman confer on Berejiklian special rights to leeway. For three main reasons, however – in addition to her irrefutable innocence at law – I am happier to give her a hand up than join the morally revolting mob pretending she’s “seriously corrupt.” First of all, that tawdry slur. Nobody calls Bob Hawke corrupt even though he took brown paper bags of money from Peter Abeles and other rich friends for decades. Having acknowledged that Berejiklian never finessed a red cent, does ICAC expect the public to believe she is as crooked as Askin and Wran? Pull the other one. This is dishonest, gutless, clearly partisan and defamatory. Being guilty of a serious infraction is one thing; implying Premier Berejiklian was not much better than the Queen of King’s Cross is idiotic. And you don’t have to rely on old history to see just how selective claims of corruption tend to be. Current affairs – especially in Canberra – will suffice. The going rate for abolishing an industry watchdog for the CFMEU is $5 million. Three million will buy you a ‘rape’ melodrama and a return to government.
Second, the acceptance today that star chambers should be empowered to lord it over parliaments – therefore being only tenuously answerable to the people – signifies not commendable reverence for accountability but a dangerous trust in imperious cabals. Captured ab initio by the lawyerly left, the permanent ‘independent’ commissions of inquiry in this country are contemptuous of natural justice. ICAC’s knicker drawer riflers used phone taps to chart Berejiklian and Maguire’s “physical and emotional intimacy” and released excerpts as an extra-judicial leg-spearing. They are a greater threat to democracy and the rule of law than private lovers and pork-barrelers. An Opposition that “keeps the bastards honest” – alongside a free press and the courts – constitutes an imperfect but superior Don Chipp ensemble than a pervy privy council.
Third, commentators usually find and even emphasise the humane angle to scandals of this calibre when the woman involved isn’t a conservative. When she is a conservative, merciless denunciation is the order of the day. Thus, Labor hagiographer Troy Bramston mocks “Saint Gladys” and argues there was never any doubt she was corrupt. You can believe that – in which case you must also believe corruption is no longer always unlawful – or concede Berejiklian is answerable for a lesser trespass. Bramston, however, touts a via media by imagining charges that might have been laid had she married Maguire and had children, “as she said she wanted to do.” This is like saying Mary MacKillop could have been done for bush-ranging had she joined the Kelly Gang. It was always my impression there was something slightly unrequited about Gladys; as if the career energy, intellect and drive that won her the premiership were never matched by a maturation of emotional know-how. Men sometimes choose to believe this about older single women because of their own sexual hubris or condescension. On this occasion, the inkling was accurate. The piggish belittlement she endured from pseudo-alpha “boss” Maguire proves she had no romantic confidence even within a milieu of dropkicks and that she felt insufficiently attractive to put her foot down. Having to resign may be the felix culpa of her ultimate fulfilment. I hope so.