Former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian may be only guilty of poor judgment in her choice of boyfriend, but her departure highlights the power anti-corruption bodies can wield and their value as a vehicle to hold politicians and public officials to account.
Bombshell though it was on Friday afternoon, the consequences of her relationship with former MP Daryl Maguire loomed large over her, and ICAC’s decision to investigate did not come out of the blue.
Ms Berejiklian could have stood aside for the duration as Neville Wran once did, but in the current circumstances of the pandemic, decided it was best to simply go and not encumber the government as it attempts to guide the state out of lockdown, particularly as the ICAC probe could take some time.
Some may argue that ICAC is too powerful and it has destroyed a career without even coming to judgment. That view would have some sympathy in the South Australian Parliament which, rather self-interestedly, recently voted to pull some teeth from its anti-corruption body.
The trouble is the notion of accountability under the Westminster tradition that has caused politicians of all colours to leave office is now seen as somewhat quaint, especially in the Federal sphere where they just tend to grit their teeth and tough it out, or take a sabbatical on the backbench until the storm has passed and they can return as if nothing had happened.
Ms Berejiklian has serious questions to answer and in another time would not have lasted this long.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison now has a rogue’s gallery of ministers and former ministers that have escaped the scrutiny that a federal ICAC would cast on them.
The most striking example is a former attorney-general no less, Christian Porter, who has been the beneficiary of a secret donation to help with the costs of his defamation case against the ABC.
Despite the clamour from the Opposition, Greens and independent MPs for a federal ICAC with real teeth, the prospects of such a body ever seeing the light day remain slim, three years after one was promised.
Politicians and public officials are responsible for decisions that affect peoples lives and livelihoods and involve massive amounts of taxpayers’ money.
When tradition fades, parliamentary sanction fails and politics is a zero-sum game, an ICAC is all that is left to uncover the truth.
There is no doubt that Australia should have a federal ICAC.
The ACT established its own anti-corruption body more than two years ago and there has hardly been a peep out of it.
It has set up offices in Kingston, launched investigations, and issued a guide for public servants, but its website only says that reports are ‘coming soon’.
How soon we don’t know.
The ACT may be a small jurisdiction, and the kind of corruption that might thrive elsewhere may not prosper here, but it is high time the Integrity Commission started showing the people of the ACT what is it is there for.
It may be inconvenient in this time of crisis, but anti-corruption bodies do not operate at politicians’ or public servants’ convenience, and that is their strength.
The Commission needs to be more vocal and visible so it can keep faith with the public.