Gladys Berejiklian made history last year when she became the first woman elected to the job of NSW Premier, but a secret romance may cost her the job she’s excelled at.
The NSW Premier, known for being a goody two shoes, an honourable person and someone with “great integrity”, shocked colleagues and the state’s residents on Monday after revealing she had been in a secret five-year relationship with disgraced former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire.
Ms Berejiklian has insisted that she kept her personal and professional lives separate but taped conversations played at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) have raised questions about how much she knew about Mr Maguire’s dealings, and why she remained friends with him after evidence presented at an earlier inquiry forced him to quit his MP role.
Ms Berejiklian has not been accused of any wrongdoing but some say her position is untenable, despite her popularity and success in guiding the state through the bushfire crisis and the coronavirus pandemic.
While Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell said he didn’t expect any imminent challenge, he believes “it’s the start of the end”.
“I don’t see how she goes to the next election now that’s for sure,” he told Sky News.
Mr Clennell said he couldn’t see ICAC not being critical of the Premier in its final report given the commission had decided to call her in for a grilling.
“I know a few people, who off the back of this would just resign,” he said.
He said he also knew a few colleagues who would “like her to just resign”.
ICAC is not expected to deliver its findings for months and Mr Clennell said Ms Berejiklian would have to survive the stench around the issue until then.
The Australian’s investigations editor Sharri Markson also wrote that the relationship had blindsided colleagues, who were expecting a short and uneventful ICAC appearance from the Premier.
“Her position is weak and despite her efforts to hang on, she may not survive the week,” Markson wrote.
The Guardian’s investigative reporter Anne Davies wrote that “ambitious figures” in the Liberal party had been circling Ms Berejiklian almost since the day she won the 2019 election.
“But she has been viewed as unassailable because of her integrity and work ethic. Until now.”
Ms Berejiklian’s survival may depend on whether there are any further revelations from the inquiry.
So far Ms Berejiklian’s colleagues appear to be backing her.
During a press conference Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Health Minister Brad Hazzard both praised Ms Berejiklian as someone with “great integrity”.
Mr Hazzard said “I 100 per cent back our Premier” and said she was “by far the best Premier in this country”.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance also supported her and said she had a “heart of gold”.
“This is a human being who has worked her socks off for this state, and deserves enormous regard and respect, and will continue to do so, and that’s the important thing for the people of NSW,” he said.
Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Jonathan O’Dea threw his support behind Ms Berejiklian and told news.com.au she was a “very decent person”.
While he acknowledged there may be one or two people who may “take potshots”, Mr O’Dea said “I’m absolutely confident that she has the strong support of the vast majority of her colleagues, including myself”.
However, others were sceptical about her leadership and Ms Berejiklian has her detractors.
Last year, three anti-abortion Liberal MPs threatened to call a spill over the Premier’s handling of the abortion decriminalisation bill.
The three MPs, Mulgoa MP Tanya Davies and legislative council members Matthew Mason-Cox and Lou Amato, eventually called off the spill after they say they got concessions on the bill.
Author and journalist Peter FitzSimons said he would be surprised if Ms Berejiklian survived as leader, while others questioned how it was possible she did not know what was going on.
“Gladys might make sundown as Premier, but I’ll be more stunned than I am now if she makes it to Sunday,” FitzSimons tweeted on Monday.
Investigative journalist Kate McClymont tweeted: “Surely alarm bells were ringing loud & clear for @GladysB 2 years ago when Maguire first featured at #ICAC’s inquiry into corruption at Canterbury Council”.
NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay is calling on Ms Berejiklian resign, tweeting that she had “turned a blind eye to corruption”.
“I think her political judgment has been poor,” Ms McKay told reporters.
“Her behaviour has been reckless. She’s shown very poor judgment.”
The Labor Party has indicated it may move a vote of no confidence in the Premier’s leadership.
The scandal around Ms Berejiklian may also make it more difficult for the Liberal and National parties to pass legislation.
The government needs the support of the crossbench including One Nation to pass legislation in the upper house but NSW leader Mark Latham has said he is not inclined to do cooperate unless Ms Berejiklian resigns.
Greens Upper House MP David Shoebridge tweeted it was “hard to see how the Premier can survive a day in parliament this week given the bombshells being dropped”.
Possible replacements for Ms Berejiklian are thought to include Mr Perrottet, Mr Constance, Planning Minister Rob Stokes, Attorney General Mark Speakman, Jobs Minister Stuart Ayres and Energy Minister Matt Kean.
Ms Berejiklian has so far refused to resign, saying “I haven’t done anything wrong”.
“I have always made sure the public interest is first and foremost paramount in every single thing that I do,” she said.
“Whilst I have made this mistake in my personal life, I intend to serve the people of NSW to the best of my ability. That’s what I’ve always done. I’ve sacrificed my life to public office, and I’m proud of that.”
Ms Berejiklian said Mr Maguire had not been able to get any personal benefit.
“He had a go, quite a few many times, but nothing transpired,” she said.
“I’m pleased to say the process has held up, because nobody was able to gain a benefit from trying to get around the process, from trying to influence, from trying to cajole. That did not occur.”
She has also got support from two former Premiers.
Ms Berejiklian said former Premier Barry O’Farrell, who resigned after he appeared to forget about receiving a $3000 bottle of wine during a previous ICAC inquiry, had contacted her and said “stay in your job”.
Former Premier Mike Baird also had a supportive message for Ms Berejiklian on Facebook.
“It’s been a very difficult day for my friend Gladys,” he wrote.
“I’ve always known her as a woman of high integrity, who works tirelessly for the people of NSW. She’s a great Premier, doing great things for this state.”
Many of the comments were also supportive of Ms Berejiklian.
“Best premier for ages.. She’s done a great job.. private life aside she has showed true professionalism.. Everyone makes mistakes.. Backing her 100%,” one woman wrote.