Why Scott Morrison is backing Gladys Berejiklian for federal politics despite corruption probe

The prime minister has thrown his support behind former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian contesting the next federal election in the northern Sydney seat of Warringah despite an ongoing corruption inquiry.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (left) reacts as Prime Minister Scott Morrison goes to shake her hand.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (left) and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Source: AAP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and senior Liberals are ramping up efforts to convince former New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian to contest the next federal election, despite an ongoing corruption inquiry.

Some in the Coalition are pinning their hopes on Ms Berejiklian nominating to contest the northern Sydney seat of Warringah at the upcoming election, with the aim of winning the electorate back from Independent MP Zali Steggall. 

On Monday, Mr Morrison threw his support behind Ms Berejiklian's candidacy, describing her treatment as “shameful” amid an investigation by the NSW Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC).

Mr Morrison's public declaration of support praised the former NSW premier as a “great” candidate who would be "very welcome".

“The way that Gladys Berejiklian has been treated has been shameful,” he told reporters.

“She will make her own decision in her own time about what she would look to do. [But] If she wished to join our team, she would be very welcome.” 

Morrison throws support behind Berejiklian for Warringah seat

Nominations for the seat of Warringah have been pushed back to 14 January as the NSW Liberal Party buys time for Ms Berejiklian to consider her options. 

The speculation around her possible tilt at federal politics comes two months after she resigned as NSW premier when ICAC revealed she was being investigated.

The ongoing investigation centres on allegations of whether Ms Berejiklian turned a blind eye to “reasonable suspicion of corruption” during her then-secret relationship with former NSW MP Daryl Maguire.

Last month, the inquiry saw Ms Berejiklian grilled over private phone conversations with Mr Maguire during televised public hearings.

Mr Morrison has tried to frame the investigation into her conduct as being a “kangaroo court”, describing her treatment as a "pile on" against a person of “great integrity”.

The prime minister dismissed questions that the investigation could undermine her candidacy at a federal election.

“There is no suggestion of criminal conduct by Gladys Berejiklian, none whatsoever,” he said.

“We have seen plenty of these things and recordings of private conversations detailed intimate things that were paraded around in the media. What was that about? I thought that was awful.” 

The support behind the former NSW premier has been echoed by senior government ministers, including Finance Minister Simon Birmingham and Environment Minister Sussan Ley.

Senator Birmingham has declared that it was “sad” when "ICACs" go out and “destroy reputations” and “do so in pretty murky ways, looking into relationships and other things.”

Ms Ley has added that the people that she represents had been “horrified that this public shaming" had played on television screens.

Why do the Liberals want Gladys Berejiklian to enter federal politics?

The lure of Ms Berejiklian’s candidacy is that her high profile and popularity - especially in leading her state through the COVID-19 pandemic - could be enough to win the seat of Warringah back into Liberal hands. 

Ms Steggall defeated former prime minister Tony Abbott at the 2019 election to win the seat, securing 57.24 per cent of the vote compared to his 42.76 per cent.

The former winter Olympian campaigned on a platform of action on climate change and government accountability to secure the almost 15 per cent margin.

Mr Abbott had held the seat since 1994 before losing at the last election.

Mr Morrison has said the contest presents a "great opportunity if Gladys wishes to run but that is up to her.”

“If she wants to have a crack at Warringah for the Liberal Party, I suspect the people would welcome that in Warringah. We will let the people decide,” he said.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has not been drawn into Ms Berejiklian's integrity, but said ICAC's investigation should be allowed to take its course.

Mr Albanese added that the people of Warringah had “rejected Tony Abbott” because of his policies and this wouldn’t change irrespective of the candidate selected.

"It doesn't matter who the candidate is for Warringah,” he told reporters.

“This is a bad government which is why Scott Morrison is ... worried not about winning seats back off an independent, he's worried about more seats going independent.”

If Berejiklian decides not to run, it’s understood Jane Buncle, a Sydney barrister and Manly resident could be in line for the nomination.

What has ICAC’s investigation revealed?

The counsel assisting the commission is due to hand down its report into the Maguire inquiry - through which Ms Berejiklian was questioned - on 20 December.

The inquiry is focused on multi-million dollar grants given or promised to Maguire’s electorate between 2015 and 2018 while the pair were still in a relationship.

Ms Berejiklian has said she has always acted with integrity and denies failing to report suspected corrupt behaviour by Mr Maguire, who is accused of abusing his public office.

The inquiry has revealed phone taps of Ms Berejiklian telling her former partner Mr Maguire that she would “throw money” at his electorate of Wagga Wagga, with her adding “don’t you worry about that”. 

It also revealed Ms Berejiklian telling Mr Maguire she had secured $170 million for a new hospital in his electorate in “five minutes” after speaking with then treasurer and current NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet.

This came after Mr Maguire had raised complaints directly with her about a lack of funding for hospitals in his electorate.

In another example, when Mr Maguire complained that bureaucrats had knocked out parts of his funding wish-list, including a stadium for the city, she shot back “but I can overrule them”.

The counsel assisting has tested Ms Berejiklian over whether these incidents show she has failed in her duty to report the information she had gleaned from Mr Maguire about private dealings.

The upcoming federal election must be held by May next year.


Share
Published 6 December 2021 at 5:45pm, updated 7 December 2021 at 8:52am
By Tom Stayner