The federal government has concluded a $1 billion agreement, funded over 12 years, with Seqirus to secure supply from a new high-tech manufacturing facility in Melbourne which would produce pandemic influenza vaccines as well as antivenoms.
This would boost Australia’s sovereignty when the country was faced with a future pandemic, and make for quick responses.
Seqirus, a subsidiary of CSL Ltd, will invest $800 million in the facility, which will be built at Tullamarine, near Melbourne airport. It will replace Seqirus’ facility in the inner Melbourne suburb of Parkville which is more than 60 years old. The Victorian government has supported the procurement of the land for the new operation.
Seqirus says the complex will be the only cell-based influenza vaccine manufacturing facility in the southern hemisphere, producing seasonal and pandemic flu vaccines, Seqirus’ proprietary adjuvant MF59 ®, Australian antivenoms and Q-Fever vaccine.
Work on construction will begin next year; the project will provide some 520 construction jobs. The facility is due to be fully operating by 2026, with the contract for supply of its products running to 2036.
The present agreement between the federal government and Seqirus is due to end in 2024-25.
Seqirus is presently the only company making influenza and Q fever vaccine in Australia, and the only one in the world making life-saving antivenom products against 11 poisonous Australian creatures, including snakes, marine creatures and spiders.
Scott Morrison said that “while we are rightly focused on both the health and economic challenges of COVID-19, we must also guard against future threats.
“This agreement cements Australia’s long-term sovereign medical capabilities, giving us the ability to develop vaccines when we need them.
“Just as major defence equipment must be ordered well in advance, this is an investment in our national health security against future pandemics,” he said.
Stressing the importance of domestic production capability, the government says when there is a global pandemic, countries with onshore capabilities have priority access to vaccines.
Health minister Greg Hunt said: “This new facility will guarantee Australian health security against pandemic influenza for the next two decades”.
Seqirus General Manager Stephen Marlow said: “While the facility is located in Australia, it will have a truly global role. Demand for flu vaccines continues to grow each year, in recognition of the importance of influenza vaccination programs. This investment will boost our capacity to ensure as many people as possible – right across the world – can access flu vaccines in the future.”
To deal with the present pandemic, the government has earlier announced $3.2 billion to secure access to over 134.8 million doses of potential COVID-19 vaccine candidates developed by the University of Oxford-Astra Zeneca and the University of Queensland, Pfizer-BioNTech and Novavax.
Despite Porter’s protestations, the ABC clearly had an obligation to air a story that contained allegations of ministerial misconduct (however tawdry).
News reports about politicians, sex and booze are as old as time and have brought shame to many a politician, from the former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to Deputy Labor Leader Gareth Evans and the UK Secretary of War John Profumo.
The one clear duty of journalism is to hold those in power to account, and that appears to have been lost on those members of government as they reportedly attempted to pressure the ABC, its managers and journalists, over the broadcast.
Standards for those in government
Many ethical issues arise from the broadcast, the attempt to pressure the ABC and the legal threats that have followed.
But it certainly wasn’t a quick piece of “gotcha” journalism with a blurry photo at its centre. The Four Corners team have an exacting process to their work. For this story, the ABC said they interviewed 200 people over several months. They also contextualised the story beyond the two central politicians to raise real concerns about the place and safety of women who work in Parliament House.
Anderson also said the allegations had been thoroughly sourced and checked legally. Those named in the story were given “ample” opportunity to respond.
Moreover, while the so-called “bonk ban” on ministers having sexual relations with their staff was only introduced by Prime Minister Malcolom Turnbull in 2018, Cabinet ministers have had rules governing their behaviour since John Howard first established a public ministerial code in 1996.
Members of the Morrison Cabinet now sign up to a code of conduct which says they will “act with integrity” and be “open to public scrutiny and explanation”.
2.24. Ministers must not engage in sexual relations with their staff. Doing so will constitute a breach of this code.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison pointedly said this week that neither Porter nor Tudge were in breach of his code of conduct.
But allegations of sexual misconduct and power imbalances, even historic ones, are still clearly a cause for community concern, and cannot not be ignored by journalists or political leaders. Such matters are no longer private affairs between consenting adults.
Regardless of the salacious allegations made on the Four Corners program, there is also a point to be made about the hypocrisy of politicians who market themselves as having “family values” and demand others follow “Australian values”.
Certainly, it is not edifying to watch details of alleged impropriety by politicians broadcast on television, and it’s uncomfortable that such stories inevitably impact those who are innocently caught up in the furore (particularly partners and children).
Tudge did issue a statement saying he regretted his actions “and the hurt it has caused my family”.
Often the debate comes back to whether or not politicians deserve private lives. The short answer is yes, of course. But this question is also misleading.
Too often the scandals arise out of political workplaces. While it might be Liberal Party ministers in the spotlight this time, this is not a problem exclusive to the Coalition. It is pervasive across political systems in Australia and worldwide.
Amid fresh allegations of MPs behaving badly, we need to look past the personal drama of each individual story and consider what they tell us about the wider structures in which politicians and their staff operate.
Political staff are not public servants. They are employed under separate legislation and are hired and fired at the discretion of their boss — the minister, shadow minister or MP.
There is little oversight over who MPs appoint, with involvement from party leaders typically viewed as interference. Indeed, there is little oversight of the work of political advisers generally — they cannot be summoned to appear before parliamentary committees.
Theoretically, ministers are responsible for their staff, but as we increasingly see, advisers can also be shields for their ministers, resigning when things go wrong.
While it may not be illegal or even immoral, the issue at stake here is a power imbalance. It is hard to argue sexual relations within this work environment could meet our modern standard of a mutually consensual relationship. Even if things start well, what happens if they end badly?
Political advisers turn into politicians
What happens in political offices matters for many reasons. Beyond creating safe workplaces, it also has an impact on who rises through the political ranks.
Evidence from across Westminster systems shows politicians increasingly have a background in political advising before they are elected.
Emerging evidence also suggests a stint as an adviser is increasingly associated with the probability of selection to safe seats and, later, ministerial office.
Why? Because politics is a networks game. And as politics has become more professionalised, the skills political staff obtain are seen as more important than skills gained via community organising or pathways through party membership.
We already know this has a disproportionate impact on women. Women were less likely to gain experience via their party machines and are less likely to be promoted to the most senior ranks of political offices.
The type of work they do in political offices tends to be of a lower status, less strategic and with less access to ministers. Put another way, they are less likely to get the valuable experience they require to move forward in their careers and less likely to have seniority and power in the office.
Adding any unwanted sexual advances, or relationships which fail, place yet another barrier for young female staff. This was reflected in the case of two Liberal staffers who came forward with claims of sexual assault in 2019.
Parliament House is a workplace
It is true federal parliament is an atypical work environment: it is more intense than most and is more likely to breed a dimension of co-dependence with support staff than most other professions.
But parliament’s status as the seat of government does not make it “special” and therefore, beyond community standards.
If anything, public expectations suggest politicians are held to a higher standard than most managers. This is because there is a recognition politicians are disproportionately powerful and influential. MPs regularly affirm their legitimacy by claiming to represent everyday Australians. This means they need to reflect community standards.
The ethical standards required of Ministers in Australia’s system of government reflect the fact that, as holders of public office, Ministers are entrusted with considerable privilege and wide discretionary power.
In recognition that public office is a public trust, therefore, the people of Australia are entitled to expect that, as a matter of principle, Ministers will act with due regard for integrity, fairness, accountability, responsibility, and the public interest, as required by these Standards.
Importantly, the same dynamics that may result in sexual harassment for some staff, may also result in bullying for others. This is because the core issue is the asymmetry of power in the ministerial-staffing relationship, compounded by the intensity of the work environment and complicated by gender relations. All staff deserve better.
Currently, an inadequate complaints process, run by the Department of Finance, makes it difficult for staff to come forward if they feel they have been mistreated at work. It has only recently added sexual harassment and the complaints procedures are opaque.
There needs to be clearer and more effective mechanisms for all staff to seek support and redress.
What could we learn from around the world?
Both the United Kingdom and Canada have introduced new complaints mechanisms. The Canadian parliament has adopted a code of conduct and a complaints procedure. The UK Parliament has a behaviour code and complaints hotline.
However, both schemes have come in for criticism, ultimately because they do not fully address the imbalance between MPs and complainants.
This points to the fact that too much of the emphasis is on women (and junior staff) to cope, adapt or seek out resolutions after something has already happened.
Really, what is required is a deeper cultural change that sees parliament treated like any other workplace.
What happens now?
Is this Canberra’s #metoo moment? We should not get our hopes up.
Without effective enforcement of the current ministerial code of conduct, which prohibits relationships with their staff, an adequate complaints process that does not disadvantage complainants and clear leadership that signals the need to shift the culture within parliament, it may not be.
After all, can Australians trust their politicians if there appears to be one rule for some and a different rule for others? Everyone needs to abide by, and be seen to abide by, the same rules and standards.
It’s quite a moment, when the country’s first law officer is asked on his home town radio station, “So you don’t think you’re a sleazebag or womaniser or someone who’s drunk in public too much now?”
Overnight, Christian Porter had been reduced from high-flying attorney-general to a man forced to publicly confront a nightmare episode of “This is Your Life” delivered by Monday’s Four Corners.
“No, it’s definitely not indicative of who I am now,” he told interviewer Gareth Parker.
Parker did not resile from going to some of the worst of the confronting claims in the program. “Did you ever say you wouldn’t date a woman who weighed over 50 kilograms and preferred that they had big breasts?‘
“Absolutely not. I mean, like, give me a break.”
But Porter – who’s having to turn up on the House of Representatives frontbench all week under the eye of colleagues and opponents – was given no breaks in this long-distance grilling. His regular Perth 6PR spot became akin to a courtroom, with him in the dock.
First up: had he ever had an intimate relationship with a staffer?
Well, certainly not the staffer he’d been seen drinking with at Canberra’s Public Bar in December 2017, in the (details disputed) incident that led to then-PM Malcolm Turnbull telling him to watch his ways.
Indeed, Porter said, the woman in question had categorically denied to Four Corners (which said she worked for another cabinet minister) the slant put on the story or that it indicated any relationship. But (unfortunately for him) her denial had been “off the record,” he said. It was not reported.
Porter was lawyerly when quizzed about whether he’d ever had a relationship with any other staffer. He wasn’t going to be pushed down byways. “Is there another allegation?” he countered.
With the nose of the experienced prosecutor he once was, Porter smells political payback.
The program’s biggest punch was delivered by Turnbull, with whom Porter had a major falling out just before the former PM lost the leadership.
In a heated dispute Turnbull argued the governor-general should refuse to commission Peter Dutton, if he won the leadership, because he might be constitutionally ineligible to sit in parliament. But Porter insisted Turnbull’s suggested course would be “wrong in law” and threatened to repudiate his position if he advanced it publicly.
“I often suspected that there would be some consequences for that,” Porter said in the 6PR interview.
“I don’t think that Malcolm is a great fan of mine, I’d say that much,” he told Parker, when asked whether he was suggesting Turnbull was motivated by revenge.
Porter’s strategy is to own and regret his distant past – “I’m no orphan in looking back on things that I wrote and did 25-30 years ago that make me cringe” – but strongly contest the construction put on his more recent life.
He’s threatened legal action, but his Tuesday tone suggested he’s more likely to suck up the damage rather than take the distracting, expensive and risky course of going to a real court.
He and fellow cabinet minister Alan Tudge – whose affair with his then staffer the program exposed – retain the support of Scott Morrison.
Morrison relies on the “BBB” defence. That is, these incidents were Before the Bonk Ban – specifying no sex allowed between ministers and their staff – imposed by Turnbull early 2018 in response to the Barnaby Joyce affair.
Morrison was at the time, and is now, an enthusiastic supporter of the prohibition. He’d like to see it embraced by Labor, who’d “mocked” it when it was announced. (One of the government’s many gripes about the Four Corner’s program is that it didn’t poke around to find Labor’s dirty washing.)
“I take that code very seriously and my ministers are in no doubt about what my expectations are of them,” Morrison told a news conference.
But please, can people keep the language more delicate? Terms matter to this PM, who once lectured the media against using “lockdown”.
When minister Anne Ruston was asked (at their joint news conference on another matter) to reflect as a woman on whether the parliament house culture had become better or worse since the “bonk ban”, Morrison interrupted her.
“How this ban is referred to I think is quite dismissive of the seriousness of the issue,” he said.
“I would ask media to stop referring to it in that way. We took it very seriously and I think constantly referring to it in that way dismisses the seriousness of this issue, it’s a very serious issue.”
We can’t know whether the Porter story will fade or there’ll be some fresh spark.
Porter was asked if he could “go to bed tonight, comfortable in the knowledge that there isn’t a woman out there who’s going to come forward and give a truthful account of her interactions with Christian Porter that would further embarrass you or damage the government”.
Porter said: “I haven’t conducted myself in a way that I think would lead people to provide that sort of complaint about me”.
Whether the story goes somewhere or nowhere, one thing seems clear. The hopes of 50-year old Porter – who switched to federal politics after an impressive state career – of ever reaching prime minister are in the mud.
In under an hour on Monday night, a red line was likely struck through his name on the list of future Liberal leadership prospects.
We don’t have to credit Scott Morrison’s claim at Tuesday’s Coalition joint party room meeting that an election is the furthest thing from his mind, but we can take at face value his indication he wants to run full term.
Politics and the electoral implications of what he does are never out of Morrison’s thinking. But on the question of election timing, he didn’t have to be as categorical in his remarks, and what he said makes sense.
“I’m a full-termer, elections are too hard to win. I cherish every day – we’ll do it for the time we said we would,” he told his troops.
It’s always possible he flips his position (or is dissembling). But, as things stand, he probably means what he says because there are strong arguments for having the election when it’s due, in early 2022, rather than prematurely.
In recent weeks many in the media have been saying, publicly and privately, that we will likely have a late 2021 election.
But it’s clear from the polls and other evidence that the public don’t want to see too much political fractiousness now – and that might still be the position in a year’s time. One reason Labor is having so much trouble cutting through at the moment is that its attacks (inevitably) reintroduce partisanship.
Currently, it’s a period for incumbent leaders, even those under fire, as this week’s Essential poll again underlines. Despite Victoria’s slow emergence from lockdown, and the multiple problems of Dan Andrews’ government, 54% of Victorians approve of the job Andrews is doing as premier.
The Queensland election on October 31 will be a tangible test of the benefit of incumbency during COVID, but it’s accepted that the pandemic has put premier Annastacia Palaszczuk in a better position than she would have been in without it.
Even in ordinary times, people don’t like early elections. And, as Morrison says, he does “cherish every day” of power. An election late next year would mean most of 2021 would be in campaign mode, reducing what he could achieve.
Labor is apprehensive that the election might be held next year – in theory, a later date should advantage it. In practice, that wouldn’t necessarily be the case.
Elections are (with obvious qualifications) two-horse races and Labor faces an uphill task to present a convincing alternative whenever the poll is held.
Anthony Albanese is coming across as a trier, and his post budget pitch highlighting child care chose an issue of strong concern to many families. But colleagues continue to worry he and the opposition are not making an impact.
Switching leaders would be difficult and traumatic for Labor and not necessarily put it in a better position (and could burn a successor to no purpose).
Hard as it would be for Labor to accept, it may be a case of the COVID times simply not suiting it.
Having said that, we also know how quickly things can change in politics.
Morrison’s fate will rest on whether he has managed to get the country, and in particular its economy, convincingly on the road to “normality”. A 2022 election gives him more time to do that.
We don’t yet have any idea how 2021 will play out. It could be a rough year, easier to handle without the distraction of an election. And, who knows, by early 2022, we might even have people vaccinated.
If any other Australian leader had given the sort of evidence Gladys Berejiklian did to the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Monday, they’d probably have been out of their position by the end of the day.
The NSW premier was protected, in the immediate term, in part because the disclosures about her five-year secret relationship with the disgraced former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire seemed so bizarrely out of character with her unsullied past and apparent conservatism in her private life.
Also, she has been a highly competent premier, especially during COVID. The pandemic fireproofed her.
Her political performance this year is certainly one reason the prime minister is standing with her. As Scott Morrison has said repeatedly, NSW has set the “gold standard” during the coronavirus crisis.
But Berejiklian’s personal and political reputation should not obscure the seriousness of her actions, or rather her inactions, in relation to Maguire.
She didn’t just make a bad judgment about a sub-optimal boyfriend which can be written off as having “stuffed up” her personal life. She made a series of decisions that were inappropriate.
When in 2015 she changed the nature of her relationship with the then member for Wagga Wagga from friendship to a “close personal” one, she failed to disclose this to colleagues.
Her supporters say her private life was no one else’s business. If her relationship had been with the plumber down the street who was unconnected with government, that would be absolutely correct. It’s another matter when those involved are a senior minister, who then became premier, and one of her party’s MPs.
The premier could affect the fortunes of the MP; the MP could use the relationship, even if undeclared, to further his own interests by suggesting he could deliver access.
As Berejiklian has said, there is nothing wrong per se with two members of parliament having a personal relationship. But, given the position of one of them, in this case it should have been put on the record – at least to cabinet colleagues.
When Maguire fell foul of ICAC in 2018, Berejiklian should have belatedly admitted to the relationship, informing senior colleagues, so there would be no time bombs. Certainly she should immediately have broken off the connection with Maguire, rather than continue it until this year, when he was back in ICAC’s sights.
Most compromising, however, is the material captured by phone taps of Maguire’s conversations with Berejiklian.
Maguire told her of his lobbying for developers. The activities referred to might not have been illegal – Berejiklian makes the point MPs are allowed to engage in business – but for any premier they would be very uncomfortable.
Berejiklian certainly seemed uncomfortable and on two occasions said “I don’t need to know”.
She explains her apparent dismissiveness of what Maguire was saying as boredom with his big-noting. It sounded, however, more like she did not want him to give her information she preferred not to receive. She had a deaf ear to clues she should have picked up.
Imagine the reaction if Morrison had given such evidence, or been embarrassed by such tapes. People would not be looking for reasons to excuse him.
The line that everyone makes mistakes in their private life – “people have all made personal decisions I’m sure they regret, that’s human”, Morrison says – won’t wash.
Berejiklian can be forgiven for initially being taken in by Maguire. But persisting with the relationship after he was found out is surely harder, if not impossible, to justify, regardless of her explanation he was in a “very dark place”. After all, she removed him from the Liberal Party and pushed for his resignation from parliament in 2018.
To maintain that different, tougher standards are applied to women leaders may often be true, but it doesn’t fit this instance. If anything she is being given a softer run.
Morrison has said “it would be a bit of a numpty of a decision” to replace her.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull praised her integrity and said: “Her leadership of this state has been tried and tested in the toughest circumstances this year, from the bush fires to now the pandemic and she has excelled.” And, he pointed out, “Let’s be frank – leaders of her calibre are not easily found.”
If the point is that the alternatives on offer – and it is not clear who would become leader if she went – wouldn’t do as good a job, that might be a valid argument on strictly utilitarian grounds (although if she survives, this scandal will make it much more difficult for her to govern effectively).
When you compare the way the NSW and Victorian governments have handled the pandemic, NSW has been way ahead (the Ruby Princess debacle notwithstanding).
Yes, she would be hard to replace. But this should not be confused with a clear-eyed view about the ethical shortcomings in her behaviour over Maguire.
In recent decades we’ve seen declining trust in political institutions. The pandemic has led people to reattach to these institutions and all Australian leaders – Morrison and the premiers – saw their ratings rise.
What we don’t yet know is whether trust in general will again plummet when the pandemic subsides.
If politicians seem to be holding their noses when there’s the whiff of impropriety or corruption in the air, they are trifling with the public’s trust in them and in the political system. They are treating the electorate with disdain.
The ICAC hearings this week have reinforced the case for a federal integrity body. But the reactions of Liberal politicians show why they want it to be relatively toothless.
It is not being suggested Berejiklian, whose leadership hangs by a thread, has personally engaged in wrongdoing; her appearance at ICAC was as a witness in an investigation into Maguire’s alleged wrongdoing.
But on what we have heard this week, she has fallen short of the standards that should be expected of a premier. Federal and state colleagues who are defending her are being tribal or expedient or both.
Scott Morrison has thrown his weight behind the embattled Gladys Berejiklian, ahead of Wednesday’s evidence to the Independent Commission Against Corruption from disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire, with whom she had a “close personal relationship” for five years.
Morrison said Berejiklian, who had been “a tremendous premier”, had his “absolute support”.
Maguire, former Liberal member for Wagga Wagga, is due to give evidence over two days.
Berejiklian was grilled for several hours on Monday at ICAC, which is investigating whether Maguire misused his parliamentary position for financial gain. Tapped phone conversations were played in which he talked to her about his efforts to broker deals for property developers, notably a sale of land owned by Louise Waterhouse near Badgerys Creek, from which he hoped to get a huge commission.
Berejiklian, who says she did nothing wrong and is not being investigated, told a news conference after her ICAC appearance that she had “stuffed up” her personal life.
She only severed her secret relationship with Maguire recently, despite his resignation from state parliament in 2018, after his property activities came to light in an earlier ICAC inquiry.
Morrison said Berejiklian had shown “a lot of courage” on Monday.
“But I also thought she showed a lot of humility, which is the Gladys I know.
“We’re all human. And particularly in those areas of our lives, and Gladys is an extremely private person, and a person of tremendous integrity. She’s a great friend. And I know she’s been getting many messages of support from her friends and colleagues and including from me … and Jenny.”
Morrison thanked state ministers “Dom Perrottet and Brad Hazzard and the whole team down there in the New South Wales government” for “getting in behind her.”
The last thing Morrison would want at the moment would be the removal of Berejiklian – he has repeatedly praised her government’s performance as the “gold standard” in handling the pandemic and highlighted NSW’s economic progress. So far there has been no sign of a move against her by colleagues and she has indicated her determination to tough out the scandal.
At ICAC on Tuesday Maggie Wang, a former business associate of Maguire, related what he had told her after his appearance at the earlier ICAC investigation. He had said words to the effect, “There’s been an unfortunate accident where my phones and iPad have been run over by a tractor”.
“Blindsided” is a word originally derived from American football and means to be hit from a totally unexpected quarter by shocking information. Unsurprisingly, it’s a word used often with the flashy US president, Donald Trump.
Until this week, it was not a word the people of New South Wales associated with the modest, determined and workaholic Gladys Berejiklian. This is the premier who has enjoyed a public approval rating of between 59% and 70% for her handling of coronavirus.
‘Close personal relationship’
In an appearance before the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Monday, Berejiklian admitted to a “close personal relationship” with Daryl Maguire, the former Liberal member for Wagga Wagga who resigned from NSW Parliament in 2018.
Two years ago, he was targeted by ICAC for allegations he was using his public office for personal gain through commissions for Sydney property projects. Since then, we have found out he may have been involved in a “cash for visas” scheme.
This was the person the premier had a “close personal relationship” with for five years until recently. Former Labor leader Bill Shorten said what many were thinking when he told Channel Nine:
She’s a smart lady who I think has been punching below her weight with perhaps a much more average guy.
A lightening strike
So, what transpired on Monday was like a lightning strike from a clear blue sky. This jolted people to hurried conclusions, including calls from NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay for the premier’s resignation to predictions her political future was doomed.
Unless something more eventuates from the ICAC hearings — which will continue this week — we haven’t heard evidence of Berejiklian using her public position for some private gain.
At this stage, she is guilty of bad political judgement and bad personal judgement, the latter of which she shares with the rest of us on occasions.
The damage at this point is to her hitherto squeaky clean reputation. Berejiklian’s story had always been about hard work, as well as her immigrant family history.
We got some indication of her drive from a 2019 interview, when she spoke of her twin sister, who didn’t survive birth:
It was just luck that I came out first. Imagine if you had a twin; you came out first, they didn’t make it, I feel like I’ve got to justify my existence by sacrificing. So I don’t care if I’m not happy all the time. I feel like I’ve got to work hard.
Until this week, the premier has always been an intensely private person who even talked in media interviews of her dedication to a political career that came at the expense of a personal life and marriage. All fair enough.
However, the sudden revelations have catapulted many to quick verdicts about Berejiklian’s career prospects, while bringing out the armchair psychologist in us all.
We wonder about the secret life of this 50-year-old woman, who retains the air of the captain that she was at high school in North Ryde. She told no one about this relationship, not even her own, very close family.
So, this can’t help but make us ask: what other information is she not sharing?
Support from colleagues
At the moment, Berejiklian is being supported by her colleagues. As a member of the moderate faction, she is possibly under threat from the right of the party, but importantly, Treasurer Dominic Perrottet was by her side on Monday.
This conservative faction leader backed the premier continuing in her job and with good reason. Any undermining of her leadership would threaten the current factional peace, publicly confirm there was something amiss with Berejiklian, and give the public the impression that the bad old days are back with revolving door premiers.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has admitted having a secret intimate relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire, which she only ended recently, despite his being forced to quit state parliament in 2018.
Berejiklian’s explosive appearance on Monday at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption saw her personal life embarrassingly exposed, her political reputation thrown under a cloud, and her future put on the line.
ICAC, which is investigating whether Maguire sought to monetise his position as an MP between 2012 and 2018, heard damaging tapped phones conversations between him and Berejiklian in which he spoke extensively of his lobbying on behalf of developers. He also talked about his concerns over his huge debts, which he said amounted to $1.5 million.
Maguire, who was a parliamentary secretary and member for Wagga Wagga, was forced to quit in 2018 after an earlier ICAC inquiry, which heard recordings of him seeking payment to help broker a deal with a Chinese property developer. This prompted a byelection that the Berejiklian government lost to an independent.
The premier’s colleagues and observers of NSW politics are gobsmacked at the revelation of Berejiklian’s “close personal relationship” with Maguire. There had been no whisper until her disclosure of it on Monday morning.
The relationship began in 2015 and lasted until after she gave evidence privately to ICAC in August.
After her Monday evidence, running for several hours, Berejiklian told a news conference: “I stuffed up in my personal life”. But she said she wouldn’t consider resigning from her position because she had done nothing wrong.
She said she had trusted Maguire, whom she had known for 15 years, but she had not told her family or friends of their relationship because it didn’t have “sufficient status”.
Berejiklian said she had sacked Maguire from the Liberal party and engaged others to press him to leave parliament. But she hadn’t broken with him earlier because he was “in a very dark place”. “I didn’t feel that I could stop being his friend during that time, rightly or wrongly, on compassionate grounds.”
She told reporters she always applied the “highest level of integrity” in doing her public job.
The phone taps indicated Maguire was considering whether to resign at the 2019 election if he was in a financial position to do so. Berejiklian admitted to the hearing she had thought if that happened, they could be in a position to make their relationship public.
In one of their phone conversations, Berejiklian said to Maguire: “You will always be my numero uno.” She told the hearing this showed “in my personal life I placed importance on how I felt about him”.
Berejiklian repeatedly stressed to the hearing she had taken no interest in Maguire’s financial affairs or his business activities, although he constantly referred to them in the phone conversations.
She said he was always talking about deals, but they then fell through. She always thought Maguire had made the appropriate disclosures.
On one occasion, she flagged to him that her chief of staff planned to call him to tell him a minister visiting China would raise a business matter Maguire was involved in.
In some calls she sounded anxious to distance herself from the details.
In one phone conversation, Maguire referred to “my little friend” and said, “you know my little friend?” Berejiklian replied, “Not really. I don’t need to know.”
In another conversation, Berejiklian said, “I don’t need to know about that bit.”
In relation to a deal involving land owned by Louise Waterhouse, from the racing family, near Badgerys Creek, Maguire asked if she had received an email from Waterhouse. When she said no, he said, “You will, she’ll send you an email. She’s really pissed off now, you know, about the airport. They’re all passing the buck.”
In September 2017 he told her, “It looks like we finally got the Badgerys Creek stuff done … I’ll make enough money to pay off my debts, which will be good.” He added, “Can you believe it, in one sale?”
The hearing went into closed session twice to listen to tapes which were considered too private to be played publicly.
Berejiklian stressed to ICAC she would never compromise her public position: “I would never turn a blind eye to any responsibility that I had to any wrongdoing that I saw.”
She emphasised she was an independent woman with her own finances. “Anybody else’s finances would be completely immaterial to me,” she said.
Her colleagues are standing by her, at least at the moment. The NSW Opposition said she should resign. Maguire gives evidence on Wednesday and Thursday.
Head of Daniel Andrews’ department resigns
The secretary of the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, Chris Eccles, has resigned, in the latest dramatic development in the hotel quarantine affair.
But his resignation has not clarified the central mystery of who decided private security should be used, a fateful move in what ended up as the Victorian second wave of COVID.
Eccles quit after his phone records showed he called then police commissioner Graham Ashton as the quarantine arrangements were being set up.
Ashton had told the board of inquiry investigating the quarantine debacle he had received information that private security would be used but could not remember who told him – although he had sent a text to Eccles asking about arrangements. Eccles told the inquiry he did not recall phoning Ashton, but he didn’t rule out doing so.
The inquiry at the weekend called for the phone records.
On Monday Eccles said in a statement the records showed he had called Ashton at 1.17 pm on March 27 and spoke with him for just over two minutes.
But Eccles stuck to his evidence to the inquiry about not passing on a decision about private security guards.
“I am absolutely certain I did not convey to Mr Ashton any decision regarding the use of private security as I was unaware any such decision had been made, and I most certainly had not made such a decision myself.
“The totality of my evidence to the Board was that I may have contacted Mr Ashton following Mr Ashton’s 1.16 pm text message.”
Eccles said to continue in his position would be “a significant distraction … as we enter a critical phase of easing COVID-19 restrictions”.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted October 8–10 from a sample of 1,527 voters, gave the Coalition a 52–48% lead over Labor in the two-party preferred question, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the previous Newspoll three weeks ago.
Primary votes were 44% Coalition (up one), 34% Labor (steady), 11% Greens (down one) and 3% One Nation (steady).
Prime Minister Scott Morrison remained very popular: 65% were satisfied with his performance and 31% were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +34. These figures are unchanged from the last poll.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese’s net approval slid three percentage points to -4. His net approval is down six points since late August. Morrison led as better PM by 57-28% (compared to 59-27% three weeks ago).
Newspoll asks three questions after each budget: whether the budget was good or bad for the economy, whether it was good or bad for you personally, and whether the opposition would have delivered a better budget.
On the economy, 42% said the budget was good and 20% bad. When it came to people’s personal fortunes, 26% said they would be better off after the budget, compared to 23% who said worse off. By 49-33%, respondents said Labor would not have delivered a better budget.
Analyst Kevin Bonham tweeted a graph showing this budget performed well compared to historical budgets. The 16-point deficit for the question of whether Labor would have delivered a better budget is the worst for an opposition since 2009.
The one-point gain for the Coalition on people’s voting intentions is also consistent with a well-received budget.
Australian state polls: Victoria and WA
A Victorian Morgan SMS poll, conducted September 29-30 from a sample of 2,220 voters, gave Labor a 51.5-48.5% lead over the Coalition, unchanged from mid-September.
Primary votes were 39% Labor (up two), 39.5% Coalition (up one) and 10% Greens (down two). Morgan’s SMS polls have been unreliable in the past.
In a forced choice, Premier Daniel Andrews had a 61-39% approval rating, down from 70-30% in early September.
Three weeks ago, Newspoll gave Andrews a 62-35% approval rating (compared to 57-37% in late July).
An Utting Research poll of five Western Australian marginal seats showed an average swing to Labor of 16%. In Liberal leader Liza Harvey’s Scarborough seat, the result was 66-34% to Labor.
Labor had a big victory at the March 2017 state election, and this poll suggests a Liberal wipe-out at the next election, due in March 2021.
Biden’s national lead over Trump exceeds ten points
In the FiveThirtyEight national poll aggregate, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden now leads President Donald Trump by 10.4% (52.2–41.9%). It’s somewhat closer in the key swing states, with Biden leading by 8.0% in Michigan, 7.3% in Pennsylvania, 7.2% in Wisconsin, 4.5% in Florida and 3.9% in Arizona.
Since my article about Trump’s coronavirus infection and the first presidential debate, Biden’s national lead has increased by 1.4%.
With Pennsylvania and Wisconsin now polling very closely, both can be seen as “tipping point” states. Previously, Pennsylvania had been better for Trump than Wisconsin.
The gap in Trump’s favour between the national vote and the tipping-point states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania has increased from 2.4% to 3.2%. If Trump were within five points nationally, this election would be highly competitive. But this difference isn’t going to matter with Biden up ten points nationally.
CNN analyst Harry Enten says Biden is polling better than any challenger against an incumbent president since 1936, when scientific polling started.
US polls include undecided voters, so it is hard for candidates to reach 50%. In 2016, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton never reached that mark in polls, and Trump was able to win far more of the late deciders.
The FiveThirtyEight forecast gives Trump a 14% chance to win, down from 17% last week. Trump has just a 6% chance to win the popular vote.
The Senate forecast gives Democrats a 72% chance to win the Senate, up from 70% last Wednesday. The most likely Senate outcome is still a narrow 51-49 Democratic majority.