Grattan on Friday: Gladys Berejiklian has governed well but failed an ethical test


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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.




Read more:
Gladys Berejiklian determined to tough out scandal of secret relationship with disgraced former MP


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.




Read more:
Brand Gladys: how ICAC revelations hurt Berejiklian’s ‘school captain’ image


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.




Read more:
Scott Morrison pledges ‘absolute support’ for Gladys Berejiklian


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.




Read more:
The long history of political corruption in NSW — and the downfall of MPs, ministers and premiers


The Conversation


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The long history of political corruption in NSW — and the downfall of MPs, ministers and premiers



Dean Lewins/AAP

David Clune, University of Sydney

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has become ensnared this week in the sensational ICAC hearings into alleged corruption by former MP Daryl Maguire — and suddenly finds her future very much in doubt.

In yesterday’s hearing, Maguire admitted to using his parliamentary office and resources to conduct private business dealings, including receiving thousands of dollars in cash as part of a visa scam.

Meanwhile, Berejiklian, who has denied any wrongdoing by maintaining a personal relationship with Maguire even after he was forced to resign as MP, has faced calls from the Opposition for her to resign.




Read more:
Brand Gladys: how ICAC revelations hurt Berejiklian’s ‘school captain’ image


Whether Berejiklian will be forced to step down remains to be seen. But it’s becoming clearer by the day that, at the very least, her reputation will be seriously tarnished by the explosive revelations.

Berejiklian is hardly the first NSW politician to become enmeshed in scandal.

Corruption has been ingrained in the political culture of NSW, from the days of its founding in the 19th century. This is the very reason the Independent Commission Against Corruption was formed in 1988 — and why it remains a vital watchdog over the inner workings of state government.

Maguire told ICAC he accepted ‘thousands of dollars’ as part of a cash-for-visa scheme.
ICAC

A corrupt old town

Before NSW began governing itself in 1856, the colony was run for many years by the upright, dedicated and incorruptible Colonial Secretary Edward Deas Thomson.

With a fully elected parliament and premier, however, things changed. And democratic politics attracted corruption from the beginning.

Historian John Hirst said that after 1856,

to conservatives it appeared as if the government had been debased into a giant system of corruption with needy ministers and members bound together by their joint interest in plunder.

Politics then (and now) was a honey pot: needy, greedy ministers and MPs were always looking to benefit from public works, jobs, development and government contracts, as well as through the manipulation of the criminal justice system.

NSW has also always had a sleazy subterranean network of fixers and door-openers who could influence decisions for the right price.

Sydney has traditionally been thought of as a corrupt old town. Whether this was because of its buccaneering origins in the convict era or because it was where all the action took place has long been an open question.

A few of NSW’s not-so-finer moments

The colony’s early days set the stage for a long history of political and public corruption. Among the more notable episodes:

ICAC is formed — and then brings down its founder

In response to the storm of corruption allegations in the Wran years, Liberal Premier Nick Greiner created the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). The new body had wide powers, a broad anti-corruption brief and iron-clad independence.

Ironically, Greiner was an early victim of the new body. In 1992, it found him guilty of corruption for appointing renegade Liberal MP Terry Metherell to a senior public service position to allow the government to regain his safe seat.

The finding was overturned by the courts on appeal and most today would agree that Greiner had acted corruptly in only a technical sense. (He had not benefited personally and in the pre-ICAC era, this would have been seen as an astute bit of politics.)

Greiner’s political career ended in 1992 after ICAC expressed concerns over his integrity.
DAN HIMBRECHTS/AAP

Greiner’s downfall was a vivid indication of the seismic shift that had taken place in NSW politics to try and rid the state of corruption.

The previous “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” era of political favours was gone. A problem could no longer be fixed with the right contacts and right sum of money, and turning a blind eye to improper behaviour by “mates” was no longer acceptable.

Everyone in the public sector was on notice that corrupt dealings would be investigated and punished and offenders publicly shamed.




Read more:
History repeats: how O’Farrell and Greiner fell foul of ICAC


ICAC itself comes under scrutiny

In 2012-13, ICAC investigations exposed former minister and power-broker Eddie Obeid’s extraordinary influence on the Labor governments of Morris Iemma and Kristina Keneally and the insidious tentacles of the Obeid family’s covert business empire.

Then, in 2014, Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell resigned after falsely denying to ICAC he had received a bottle of expensive wine from an associate of Obeid’s, who was lobbying for a valuable government contract.

Barry O’Farrell resigned over his inability to remember being gifted a $3,000 bottle of wine.
DAN HIMBRECHTS/AAP

O’Farrell admitted to a massive failure of memory but was cleared of any wrongdoing by ICAC. Nonetheless, he took the honourable course and resigned.

In recent years, ICAC itself has come under scrutiny. In 2015, it was accused of overreach, particularly in its pursuit of Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen.

David Levine, ICAC’s inspector and a former judge, harshly criticised the commission’s investigation of Cunneen, calling it “unjust, unreasonable and oppressive”.

Levine called the inquiry into Cunneen a ‘low point’ in ICAC’s history.
JOEL CARRETT/AAP

Reforms are brought in, but are they enough?

As a result, ICAC was restructured in 2016. The existing single commissioner was replaced by a panel of three — a full-time chief commissioner and two part-time ones.

A decision to proceed to a compulsory examination or public inquiry needed majority approval of the three commissioners. More emphasis was placed on procedural fairness in inquiries.

And the highly respected Supreme Court judge Peter Hall replaced Megan Latham as chief commissioner in August 2017.




Read more:
The ‘sports rorts’ affair shows the need for a proper federal ICAC – with teeth


Levine had also proposed abolishing public inquiries, which he said had resulted in the undeserved trashing of reputations.

He recommended an exoneration protocol for those who had a finding of corrupt conduct made against them but were acquitted in court, and judicial review of ICAC decisions.

These recommendations were rejected at the time, but they may be worth reconsidering — particularly if the inquiry into Maguire’s actions unfairly jeopardises Berejiklian’s premiership.The Conversation

David Clune, Honorary Associate, Government and International Relations, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Scott Morrison pledges ‘absolute support’ for Gladys Berejiklian



Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Brand Gladys: how ICAC revelations hurt Berejiklian’s ‘school captain’ image



Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Mark Rolfe, UNSW

“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.

Daryl Williams leaving an ICAC hearing in 2018.
Former Wagga MP Daryl Williams appeared also before ICAC in 2018.
Erik Anderson/AAP

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.




Read more:
Gladys Berejiklian determined to tough out scandal of secret relationship with disgraced former MP


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.

Screengrab of Gladys Berejiklian at the ICAC hearing on Tuesday.
Gladys Berejiklian game evidence during the ICAC hearing into Daryl Maguire on Monday.
Supplied/ICAC

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.

Brand Gladys

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.

Quick verdicts

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.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian in a press conference at NSW Parliament.
The NSW Premier will continue to face questions over her relationship with former MP Daryl Maguire.
Dan Himbrechts/ AAP

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.

And all in the middle of a pandemic.




Read more:
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian avoids a spill but remains in troubled waters


On Tuesday, Berejiklian apologised to the party room. So far, the public criticism is limited to MPs such as conservative backbencher, Matthew Mason-Cox, who has form as a rogue operator.

But Berjiklian’s image will not be same again

So, it gets back to Brand Gladys.

Until ICAC finds something more about her, she should survive this episode with the backing of her party, unless another surprise eventuates in the future.

But her rather perfect public image will never be the same.The Conversation

Mark Rolfe, Honorary associate, School of Social Sciences, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Gladys Berejiklian determined to tough out scandal of secret relationship with disgraced former MP



Dean Lewins/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Barilaro keeps Nationals in the tent; koalas stay in limbo


Dean Lewins/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Several premiers presently find themselves at war with the federal government. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, by contrast, suddenly found herself locked in battle with her deputy premier, John Barilaro, and his bolshie band of Nationals.

The junior partner in the NSW coalition chose this week to pull on a stoush over a new regime the state government launched months ago to protect koalas, which have been devastated and displaced by fires and drought.

That a row over koalas could shake the Berejiklian government to its core during a pandemic is startling, at the least. The Nationals justify this by saying they’d long been told their concerns would be considered, and they hadn’t been.

They insist they’re not anti-koala — they’d like to see the population doubled, they say — but claim the new regime is too burdensome, including by extending the definition of core koala habitat and increasing the number of koala tree species.




Read more:
The NSW koala wars showed one thing: the Nationals appear ill-equipped to help rural Australia


The Nationals are under pressure from farmers and, at a political level, from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party, which is always nipping at their heels.

Within the Nationals, pressure built with first one, then two, and several more MPs in revolt — and quickly the whole party. Efforts to get a special meeting to deal with the koala issue were unsuccessful – the premier had other things on her plate.

By Thursday, the Nationals had resolved that until the koala row was addressed they’d no longer attend joint party room or parliamentary leadership meetings and would abstain from voting on government bills. (They reserved the right to support bills and motions important to regional areas.)

“This effectively puts the entire party on the crossbench,” the party said in a statement.

Barilaro insisted the Nationals could take this stand while their ministers remained in cabinet.

This would have made them sort of “virtual” crossbenchers – a very strange notion indeed under the Westminster system.

A frustrated Berejiklian issued an ultimatum. “It is not possible to be the deputy premier or a minister of the Crown and sit on the crossbench,” she said in a statement.

She said she’d told Barilaro that he and his Nationals cabinet colleagues had until 9am Friday “to indicate to me whether they wish to remain in my Cabinet or else sit on the crossbench”.

By Friday morning, Barilaro had stepped his party back from the brink. After a meeting with Berejiklian, the two leaders said in the briefest of statements the coalition remained “in place”, as did “cabinet conventions and processes”.




Read more:
Nationals have long valued stable leadership and being strong Coalition partners – this shouldn’t change now


Meanwhile, koalas were to be dealt with at a coming cabinet meeting. The extraordinary upheaval may be over for now, but it leaves scars, questions, uncertainty and tension.

Most obviously, the substantive issue is still unresolved. If the Nationals don’t get their way on changes to the koala regime, there could easily be another explosion. If they do, many Liberals will be angry.

The Nationals’ constituency will be behind the party’s stand. But for numerous Liberal supporters, compromise on as emotive an issue as koalas will be an electoral no-no.

This week’s events have again brought into question Barilaro’s judgement.

He was caught between the strong feelings within his party and the need to maintain the coalition. He laid himself open to criticism of firstly overreaching and then failing to carry through his threat.

This is against the background of his behaviour before the Eden-Monaro byelection, when he as good as said he would run for the seat and then said he wouldn’t.




Read more:
Eden-Monaro opens wounds in Nationals, with Barilaro attack on McCormack


Even some Nationals shake their heads, while the Liberals resent what Berejiklian has to put up with.

At one stage on Thursday, Barilaro asked his parliamentary party if they thought someone else would be better to lead them. The idea was dismissed. Nevertheless, the past few days have fanned doubts about his style of leadership.

Most serious in the immediate term, the trust between Berejiklian and Barilaro has been further eroded, after taking a knock from his conduct over Eden-Monaro. The NSW coalition remains intact, but no one can miss the crack that has been repaired by superglue. It is not as robust as it once was.

And Berejiklian has less patience with her volatile partner than she used to have.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The NSW koala wars showed one thing: the Nationals appear ill-equipped to help rural Australia



JoelCarrett/AAP

Tanya M Howard, University of New England

This morning, NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro capitulated on a threat to tear apart the state government over new koala protections. For now, the government remains intact. However the Nats’ campaign to loosen environmental protections that affect farmers will continue to destabilise the Coalition in the longer term.

The dramatic events of the past 24 hours have cast doubt on whether such a blustering, short-sighted political party has what it takes to lead rural Australia. The NSW Nationals have been entrusted with seven ministerial portfolios – from agriculture to trade and early childhood. But they were willing to throw it away over the fine print of a single planning policy.

There’s no doubt many people in the bush, including farmers, are doing it tough. And many farmers feel environmental protections are hurting their livelihood.

But it’s in everyone’s interests – including farmers’ – to ensure our environment stays healthy. And the extreme summer bushfires shone new light on how close we are to losing vulnerable species such as koalas. It’s hard to understand what the National Party thought it had to gain from this damaging display of brinkmanship.

A koala in a tree
The Nationals objected to changes to koala protections that curtail their land management.
Joel Carrett/AAP

A long history of tension

Nationals MPs had been demanding the government change a state environmental planning policy that aims to make it easier to identify and protect koala habitat. The policy changed the way koala habitat is identified by increasing the number of protected tree species from ten to 65.

Barilaro branded the change a “land lockup policy”. He described the number of protected tree species as “excessive” and said farmers would be forced to conduct time-consuming and expensive surveys before any new development or farming on their land.




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Farmers, murder and the media: getting to the bottom of the city-country divide


NSW Liberal Planning Minister Rob Stokes rejected Barilaro’s claims that farmers can’t build a feed shed or a driveway without a koala study, and that noxious weeds are listed as core koala habitat.

Development pressures on the NSW north coast have likely fuelled this latest stoush. There, a move to different, more lucrative crops such as blueberries and the demand by “sea-changers” for residential real estate is prompting agricultural land to be sub-divided and sold. The new koala rules might slow this down.

Murdered compliance officer Glen Turner.
Supplied by family

Land clearing policy has always been a flashpoint for conflict in regional and rural NSW. Tensions tragically came to a head in 2014 when environment compliance officer Glen Turner was murdered by a disgruntled landholder found guilty of breaking native vegetation laws. In the days afterwards, rural politicians said Turner’s death was “brought about by bad legislation” on land clearing.

Since then the NSW government has relaxed native vegetation laws. As a result, land clearing in the state has risen almost 60%, according to government data.

And in August last year the government announced it would no longer investigate or prosecute those who cleared land illegally under the old laws.

A chain used for land clearing is dragged over a pile of burning wood on a rural property.
Dan Peled/AAP

The city-bush divide

The issue of environmental protection plays into a historical city-country divide that has long been an easy wedge for rural politicians.

This tension came to the fore over the koalas issue. Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis said this week:

I was elected to Parliament to represent my community and I get really annoyed when city-centric people preach to us, especially when people in Sydney have done nothing for their koalas.

But it’s worth remembering northwest NSW has some of the highest land clearing rates in the world. It has been identified as a deforestation hotspot, on par with Brazil and the palm oil plantations of Indonesia.

And environmental degradation is not just a concern for city people. Biodiversity underpins our agricultural systems; insects, birds and soil microbes all contribute to food security and regional prosperity.

Separately and just as importantly, in all this talk of what regional communities want, the National Party is virtually silent on the views of Indigenous Australians.

A tractor plowing a field.
Biodiversity underpins farming systems.
Shutterstock

Farmers have bigger problems than koalas

Barilaro and his MPs suggested the amendment was the final “nail in the coffin” of rural and regional Australia. But the fact is, the rapidly dwindling NSW koala population already has one foot in the grave.

A recent NSW inquiry predicted the extinction of the species by 2050 unless protections and rehabilitation efforts were radically ramped up. And a World Wildlife Fund report this week found a 71% decline in koala numbers across bushfire-affected areas of northern NSW.

Koala protections are far from being the biggest threats to rural prosperity. Escalating tensions with China have led to recent bans on barley and beef. The rural community has been hit hard by the extreme drought, and there is growing discontent with the mismanagement of water in the Murray Darling Basin.




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What’s more, recent expansion of gas exploration and development in the state’s northwest has left locals worried about water contamination and over-extraction.

There is no doubt life in regional and rural Australia is different to the life lived in the city. In some areas there are poor internet connections, worse roads and great distances to travel for basic health services.

But these problems, like land clearing, are complex. And it seems the NSW Nationals are ill-equipped to deal with these challenges. This week’s display suggests the party only deals in wedge politics and blunt solutions – and with that approach, we all stand to lose.The Conversation

Tanya M Howard, Senior Research Fellow, University of New England

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

NSW Coalition scrapes back in as minor parties surge – but delivering on promises will not be easy



File 20190324 36252 j4x2lh.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Having been returned to power, the Berejiklian now has to deliver on its big promises.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Andy Marks, Western Sydney University

“It’s not a game of SimCity,” NSW treasurer, Dominic Perrottet assured viewers on the ABC’s NSW election night coverage. “Sydney’s under construction”, he added, acknowledging the Coalition government’s unfinished infrastructure projects are causing grief, but noting, “I don’t sense any baseball bats”. He was right.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s Liberal-National government was returned to office on Saturday night, albeit on a slender margin. With the victory came some wreckage, and largely unexpected beneficiaries. This poll was predicted to be decided in the bush, and that’s where the movement occurred.




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Low-key NSW election likely to reveal a city-country divide


The Nationals lost the long held seats of Murray and Barwon on swings of around 27% and 21% respectively. And it was the Shooters, Farmers and Fishers that swept the field, capitalising on internal Nationals strife and pledging to act on the fish kill, water security and the drought.

The Shooters also consolidated the slender claim they had on Orange after the 2017 byelection, securing a 37% swing to make the central west firmly their own. A possible tempering of the Shooters vote in light of events in Christchurch didn’t eventuate, with victorious Orange candidate, Phil Donato, telling Channel Seven, “there wasn’t a real lot of talk about it”, adding, “it’s unfortunate it was politicised by the government.”

NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro remarked that his was “not a party of ideology” but a “party of geography”. He wasn’t wrong. While they incurred considerable drops in support in parts of the central, southern and outer west of the state, the Nationals actually attracted a swing of, on average, 5.6% across the seats of Clarence, Cootamundra, Monaro, Northern Tablelands and Oxley. Nevertheless, their Coalition partners were clearly concerned at the federal implications. Progressive Liberal Trent Zimmerman reserved particular scorn for Barnaby Joyce, arguing the NSW result confirmed, “he should spend more time in Tamworth and less time on TV”.

For the Nationals, under leader John Barilaro, the election result was a poor one.
AAP/Dan Himbrechts

Newly-minted independent, Joe McGirr, has made Wagga Wagga his own, retaining the seat he won from the Liberals at last year’s byelection and building his buffer to over 15%. Long-standing Lake Macquarie independent, Greg Piper has put the one-time Labor stronghold squarely out of reach, picking up a 12% swing in the process. Depending on the flow of votes in the lower house, there is talk Piper will be approached for the speakership.

Affirming this election’s broad trend away from the major parties, Alex Greenwich retained Sydney with a roughly 3% swing in his favour. While still in doubt, independent Mathew Dickerson is making a very close run affair of Dubbo, nudging the high profile Nationals’ candidate, Dugald Saunders, a former ABC radio host.

Unlike the independents and the Shooters, One Nation was never going to secure lower house representation. But it did make notable inroads in urban areas. At last count, the NSW arm of Pauline Hanson’s party was odds on to usurp the Greens as the third force in Sydney metropolitan seats like Camden, Holsworthy, Penrith and Wollondilly.

Despite their recent internal turmoil, the Greens made a strong showing in lower house voting. Jamie Parker (Balmain) and Jenny Leong (Newtown) substantially grew their base, securing swings of 6.4 and 5.1% respectively. While in the north, Tamara Smith expanded her two-party preferred vote to over 57%.

The struggle to take neighbouring Lismore is going down to the wire, with former federal Labor MP, Janelle Saffin a chance to pull ahead of the Greens and Nationals in a complex three-way preference contest.




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Coalition wins a third term in NSW with few seats changing hands


The outcome for the Greens and the Coalition in the upper house won’t be determined for some time. The trend towards minor parties and independents in the lower house, however, suggests that they will feature substantially in the 21 Legislative Council spots in play.

One Nation’s Mark Latham looks to have secured the required 4.55% vote share, with his party a chance for a second. At last count, the Coalition had just over seven spots, Labor six the Greens two and the Shooters one. The eventual upper house composition will almost certainly see the Coalition required to deal with a significantly expanded and unwieldy crossbench; a change from their current, more predictable arrangements, usually with the Christian Democrats.

This election will be remembered as a contest of clear delineations for the Coalition. While their partners, the Nationals, took substantial hits in the bush, the Liberals managed to hold the line in the city, losing Coogee, but retaining marginal East Hills, against the odds.

Labor leader Michael Daley’s “schools and hospitals before stadiums” message may have found traction in pre-election polling and with parts of the electorate, but it wasn’t sufficient for a relatively untested leader to take down a government pledging to “get it done” on infrastructure programs worth over A$80 billion.

Getting it done is the task now for the Berejiklian government, who will be looking to deliver on the large scale but delay-plagued infrastructure projects it has undertaken. Pressing ahead with that agenda won’t be easy for a government skirting a possible minority in the lower house and an unknown quantity in the upper house.

As for Labor, Daley is seeking to stick it out. Barring the stumbles of the last week of his campaign, he has performed remarkably well for a leader in the job only four months, fronting a party that only eight years ago suffered one of the worst electoral defeats in Australian political history. That might not matter to those seeking a new leadership direction after Saturday’s result.The Conversation

Andy Marks, Assistant Vice-Chancellor, Strategy and Policy, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: NSW result gives federal Liberals a boost in the mind games


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison couldn’t wait for NSW opposition leader Michael Daley’s concession speech on Saturday night. Morrison leapt to the stage at the Liberals’ function, speaking ahead of Gladys Berejiklian, to hail the victory of her government.

For the federal Liberals, the night was a vital morale booster, though the result had been determined mostly on state factors.

Consider what could have happened. Months ago all the talk was how the NSW government feared that going to the people ahead of its federal counterpart meant it would take a serious knock from voters wanting to protest against the Morrison government.

That knock (and attendant backbiting) didn’t come. The polls suggest it is in the pipeline, but if it had been delivered prematurely it would have blown away Morrison’s messages.

The Liberals would delude themselves if they took too much heart from NSW. But at a psychological level it will lift the spirits of their MPs and campaign workers, and provide a better climate in which to launch the April 2 budget than if Labor had won or done significantly better.

Some in Labor are concerned the NSW result breaks the momentum for the federal opposition – that feeling of total inevitability about a Bill Shorten win. If, on the back of this result, the next Newspoll saw a tightening, there’d be a sharp intake of breath in ALP circles.




Read more:
NSW Coalition scrapes back in as minor parties surge – but delivering on promises will not be easy


Both the NSW and federal Liberals have had change at the top since their previous elections. But the difference is dramatic. The federal Liberals tore down a leader in a coup driven by ideology and revenge. The NSW Liberals saw Mike Baird exit and a smooth handover to Berejiklian. The nature of the succession helped set her up for this election.

The Liberals are making much of the fact Berejiklian becomes the first woman to be elected as NSW premier. But that piece of history doesn’t offset the reality that women are thin on the ground in the federal parliamentary party and will remain so after the election.

The failure of NSW Labor has reinforced the message that the actual campaign matters.

Perhaps the ALP wouldn’t have come close even with a better final week. But until then the commentary judged the Berejiklian campaign as poor. Then the video emerged of Daley saying Asians were taking local jobs. He had another own goal when, questioned at a people’s forum, he couldn’t recall the detail of his own policies.

The contrast was stark: a premier who knew what she was doing, and an opposition leader who wasn’t sure what he was promising.

Federally, the 2016 election showed the importance of the last few weeks before voters make their choice. Malcolm Turnbull performed poorly on the hustings and nearly lost.

Indeed, campaigns may matter increasingly. The contemporary electorate is very volatile. And are some voters so disgusted with politics they refuse to listen to the noise until close to election day?

The NSW results also underlined that local campaigns are pivotal. The performance of individual MPs and the quality of candidates can be critical when voters are often focused as much or more on what is happening in their own backyard as on the central messages coming through the media.

The Nationals have been big losers out of the NSW poll, with huge swings in some areas. Two of their seats have gone – Barwon and Murray, won by the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers – and a third, Lismore, is in the balance but likely to be lost to Labor.

In the first two, water was a crucial issue. More generally, the Nationals are having trouble convincing their constituencies they can deliver for them; they’ve become hostage to regional voters’ belief they get a worse deal in services than city people. The siren call of protest parties is potent.

The federal Nationals – who are taking a little comfort from modest positive swings in some other areas – don’t have to worry about the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers winning seats in May.

But, coming against the background of destabilisation in their ranks, the state losses will further unnerve them as they face their test with weak leadership and doubtful prospects.




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Coalition wins a third term in NSW with few seats changing hands


Michael McCormack is safe until the election but he struggles to manage an unsettled bunch. It seemed very deliberate that Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos on Sunday went out of his way to give a shout-out to McCormack.

“Let me make it very clear: Scott Morrison, Josh Frydenberg, Arthur Sinodinos for what it’s worth, and all the other members of the Liberal-National coalition back Michael McCormack as the leader to go into the election,” Sinodinos said on the ABC.

The Nationals have several lower house seats vulnerable in May. They’ll need to differentiate themselves from the Liberals – as they did in 2016 – but how effectively McCormack can execute this is another matter.

Former leader Barnaby Joyce, a campaigning asset for the Nationals – and by extension the government – in 2016, now runs off the leash, often sounding quite wild. His aggressive performance on Seven was the talk of the election-night TV coverage.

In a clear signal to Joyce, Sinodinos said his campaigning ability should be “used to the greater good of the Coalition”. NSW federal Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman put it more bluntly – Joyce should “spend more time in Tamworth and less time on TV”. But the man who declared on Saturday night “we’ve got to stop taking our political advice from the ABC” is unlikely to be tuning into those who want him to turn his volume down.

The NSW outcome probably puts even more eggs in the budget basket.

Sinodinos highlighted its tax cuts as a campaigning counter to Labor’s line on wages.

“When the ACTU and others are out there talking about ‘we need a wage increase of X’, that’s a pre-tax wage increase. You can get an equivalent effect through a proper tax cut for low and middle income earners,” he said. “So we’ll be saying that until our policies kick in to help lift wages even further, the way to do this is through tax cuts focussed on low and middle income earners”.

As is so often observed, people distinguish between their state and federal votes. For the federal battle, this NSW poll has not thrown any switch – it has just made some readjustment to the temperature.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia: 2019 NSW Election