Glad All Over

“My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go.”

Oscar Wilde

Tributes flood old and new media, when NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is pushed under a bus, a bloodless coup, her parting shot at ICAC, timed to beat Friday’s putting out the garbage time slot. She falsely claims she has no choice but to resign when she could have stood aside. A Primadonna to the end, she rues the timing. The ICAC is interrupting her life’s greatest work.

As if. ICAC’s the warning light that comes on when your engine needs attention. Across Australia, Liberal Parties would rather disconnect that light than diagnose the fault in the motor. What could possibly go wrong? SA Liberals lead the way; render their ICAC a hollow joke.

Heard about the Morrison government’s Clayton’s ICAC? SA’s just got one. Its new ICAC has no powers to investigate either corruption, or misconduct and maladministration. But while Liberals hate accountability, probity and transparency, everybody loves Gladys now she’s gone.

Hypocrisy Morrison coughs up his typically evasive, empty encomium “Gladys is a dear friend of mine we’ve known each other a long time. She has displayed heroic qualities, heroic qualities as the premier of NSW,” he lies, of the woman who privately calls him “evil” and a “bully”. He’s got rid of her.

What Gladys hasn’t displayed is that she is free of the endemic corruption that infects the NSW government, poisoning trust; hollowing out a leader’s authority in times of crisis.

“I have worked with her extremely closely and she has always been a vibrant spirit when it comes to our debates, doing the best for the people of NSW.”

Morrison’s patronising tone betrays his paternalism. He’s a notorious, micro-manager and control freak whose approach to debate is to browbeat or evade, seek refuge in sophistry and specious argument.

Or beg off. Disagree with the premise of your question. There’s no sense here either of respect for his “dear friend”. Nor do we expect Morrison to have any friends in politics, apart perhaps from Stuart Robert.

Best for the people of NSW? Berejiklian’s rapport is decidedly with the top end of town. Her business-friendly approach; her lockdown lite or “mock-down”, where Bunnings is still open and masks are voluntary, is her undoing. She departs just before the worst of her pandemic hits.

Aircrews need rules for safe transport in a pandemic. Failing to regulate their travel, Bernard Keane notes, sparks a conflagration.

Unwilling to lose her coveted “gold standard” koala stamp from a PM who is a late recruit to lockdown, she dithers, until forced into restrictions that are too late. Her softly-softly regime feeds catastrophic infection rates in NSW which then infects Victoria, the ACT and New Zealand, and what looks like “a return to recession for Australia”.

Before she jets off to her post as ambassador to Singapore, as whispers have it, Gladys could explain how her government could tell nurses to take a wage freeze during a pandemic. Overworked? Stressed?  “I don’t need to know about that” is a cruel cop out.

NSW Train drivers can’t feed their families and pay rising rents and utility bills. Inflation is back on the rise. “I don’t need to know about that” Gladys offers workers a 0.3% increase – an increase that will be instantly devoured by her mentor Morrison’s, you beaut, flat tax “reforms”.

Ed Husic, member for Chifley and shadow Minister for Industry on ABC Insiders tells of two Sydneys in Gladys’ government. He calls her “the premier for the east and north of Sydney”.

“She managed a very ideological, political lockdown that divided the city, saw things happen in the west that would not happen in the north and east, played politics with public health.

I represent nearly 7,000 largely unvaccinated residents in the suburbs of Chifley that caught Covid, and I could not look those people in the eye and say ‘I thank Gladys Berejiklian for her service’ when really the phrase that should be uttered by her and the NSW Liberals is,

‘Sorry we let you down,’ and then they fix it.”

Why, Gladys was “best on brand in handling the pandemic”, cries Andrew Probyn, on ABC Insiders. “Probes” seems to have missed the electorate of Chifley and others in the west of Sydney together with the Ruby Princess debacle.

Above all, he skips over how Gladys’ ineffectual, “lockdown lite” helped spread Delta throughout NSW and the rest of Australasia.

“… I think she has been an amazing premier, a person of high integrity, and someone that I would place my trust in completely and I think that’s what the community of NSW has done as well during these last 20 months,”

Brad Hazzard gushes, brushing over the fact that his Premier, who occupied positions of public trust, responsibility and power as State Treasurer and Premier misled the ICAC and kept her secret boyfriend a secret, even after he was brought before the ICAC. Why did she wait to disclose a conflict of interest only when ICAC forced her to?

The “Evil bully”, in her eyes, “a man of mystery who wants to control everything and to cut us out of everything”, as a senior Nat has it, Scott Morrison brings forward his Friday presser to upstage Gladys; do his announcements shtick, a surreal performance art which he’s cultivated to the point where it usurps any true leadership, government, or heeding the will of the people.

“It’s time to give Australians their lives back,” he bleats ‘n repeats, with typical vacuity, although some wags see a Whitlam allusion in the first two words. Implied is the PM’s Covid sales campaign pitch falsely equating lockdowns with the deprivation of life and liberty.

But, alas, there’ll be no political Lady Lazarus act for Gladys who gets a call, Thursday, telling her the ICAC will investigate her for corruption. The ICAC is holding further hearings into Gladys Berejiklian and her relationship with Daryl Maguire – in relation to grant funding and whether she “was liable to allow or encourage the occurrence of corruption”.

The commission would have called Gladys earlier, but according to legal scuttlebutt, a judge involved in Further Operation Keppel was badly injured in a cycling accident and is only just sufficiently recovered to attend court 18 October.

Former NSW supreme court judge, Assistant Commissioner, the Hon Ruth McColl AO SC, will preside. It is expected the inquiry will continue for approximately ten days.

It’s the sort of news that Scotty just can’t top. But just to rub his nose in it, Gladys fans all over NSW are putting blazers out, according to the Daily Mail’s plagiarists and a slightly less racy, Pedestrian TV. Glad, ever the snappy dresser, is famous for her designer label blazer collection.

But it’s not just about appearances, or disappearances for that matter, (who can forget the premier announcing giving up appearing at NSW Covid pressers), Gladys knocks the socks off everybody, with her work ethic and her integrity.

Along with blazers on letter boxes, there’s a Tsunami of good-will. And a feeling that compared with her federal counterparts, Glad’s been harshly dealt with. Hypocrisy is alive and well in the Federal Liberal Party.

“Christian Porter keeps his job, and she doesn’t,” says Ms Stacey Le Tessier of Kirribilli.

Or is it sexism? Speaking to Fergus Hunter in Nine’s The Sydney Morning Herald, Ms Le Tessier, seems to buy the spin that the NSW Premier is in trouble only over bad choice in partners. Ms Berejiklian is being punished for conduct that would be OK if she were a bloke?

Paeans of praise flood the nation’s fawning corporate media, led by Federal Liberal Party, Pravda, The Australian, whose role in our fetishising of wealth, a state religion, up there in the pantheon along with sport, ANZAC and anyone in uniform, includes praising St Gladys of the Cash Nexus and sundry other public acts of Neoliberal, libertarian or corporate hagiography.

The Oz is busy, busy, busy, posting announcements on behalf the business class and the government it owns, a bumper crop of bumper sticker talking points, Yellow Peril 2.0 alerts and sundry other grandiose fantasies, paranoid delusions which the PM and his cabal of former Crosby-Textor, Tory advisers, apparatchiks and PSA hacks concoct for our consumption.

St Gladys leads the nation’s war on Covid – according to its current, pernicious mythologising, until she falls victim to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). ICAC’s an unholy trinity; a Frankenstein monster, a Star Chamber, a usurper, despite NSW Libs assiduously slashing its funding.

Now the watchdog must sit up and beg government for funds, requests which Berejiklian is keen to deny, last November, when she sees she is in ICAC’s sights.  Bad move Glad.

ICAC misses out on an “extra” $7.3 million in funding, the premier announces; adding that spending public funds to win elections is not illegal just “part of the political process.” No. It’s a corruption.

The ICAC has conducted landmark corruption inquiries into public officials, including Arthur Sinodinos in the Liberals’ Australian Water Holdings (AWH) scandal, which corporate media successfully con the public is only about Eddie Obeid and Labor. Yet it must now plead with Berejiklian’s government for enough money to do its job. Without proper funding, it warns, it would be forced to reduce the organisation to its smallest size in its 30-year history.

If ICAC is the villain, Gladys is the victim. How dare they pick on a poor, single woman, a paragon of diligence and multicultural assimilation, whose close friend is fellow Armenian-Australian Joe Hockey? Glad just made the wrong choice of shonky boyfriend.

The absurd fable continues via The Guardian Australia where readers learn that Morrison will never now approve a Federal ICAC. Preposterous? His government’s Clayton’s federal ICAC would see corruption flourish.

“(a) sham [that] falls disastrously short” warn seven retired senior judges of the Coalition’s draft plans. “Extraordinarily misconceived” is Labor’s Mark Dreyfus’ view of the Scott Morrison model which makes a government of the day sole arbiter of which parliamentarians or their staff would face referral to its ICAC.

Those who currently claim that NSW’s ICAC is politicised would create a federal model that could be a purely political weapon?

“ICAC curse claims Covid crusader Gladys.” The Australian wails, committing two howlers in the one headline. Whilst the former Willoughby, Commonwealth Bank branch manager will be missed by her pals in corporate boardrooms, Gladys is under investigation for corruption.

“Typhoid Mary of Australasia pushed under bus before ICAC stench – and NSW Health collapse infect Morrison’s re-election chances,” is the real story, The Australian is trying to hide.

ICAC is investigating the former NSW Premier on four counts of misconduct. Yet even as she makes her teary farewell to a state she claims to have served virtuously, she hits out at the ICAC.

“My resignation as premier could not occur at a worse time, but the timing is completely outside of my control, as the ICAC has chosen to take this action during the most challenging weeks of the most challenging times in the state’s history. That is the ICAC’s prerogative.” she says, tweaking the myth of victimhood to insinuate a political motivation to the ICAC.

Meanwhile at home, wracked by Covid neurosis, a folie a deux between people and government, we worry ourselves sick searching for face-masks, QR codes, hand sanitiser, news of extended family, anti-vaxxers and “medical advice”. Stress over keeping social distance from supermarket space invaders. And paying the rent as well as buying groceries and paying the power bill.

Now, workers forced by lockdown to forgo wages, learn that support will be withdrawn. Treasurer Frydenberg muffs his lines when asked why. There is no rational explanation. Callous indifference or calculated cruelty? This mob reckons life on Jobseeker’s forty dollars a day incentivates you to find work.

All the while, each day, on Odin’s eye, the widescreen TV, plays out a theatre of recrimination in which a cub flubs a simple question, while veteran scalp-hunters go for the stiletto, in a ritual badgering of MPs, health experts, premiers and medicos that exhausts everyone.

Is it a version of the medieval witch hunt but with multiple inquisitors and witch-finders general?

Or is it a bad parody of the fourth estate; a tamed estate reduced to quibbling and twitting instead of holding politicians to account? No-one holds Berejiklian or Morrison or their corporate donors to account.

The slow dance marathon of state premiers’ daily pressers may begin briskly with a volley of trivial pursuit or frenzied, hyper-partisan, sniping but it all gives way to a torpor of exhaustion.

When she does throw in the towel, Friday, Gladys Berejiklian takes no questions. It seems- like her resignation itself- a tacit concession of guilt. Despite her protests.

ICAC has it all wrong. “Historic matters” already dealt with. Doesn’t the Independent Commission against Corruption know that she has her hands full handling the Covid crisis?

Shocked by the inexorable spread of a virulent mutant variant in a pandemic which kills 700,000 making it the deadliest in US history, we are all vastly comforted by the notion that an anti-corruption body is, itself, a moral hazard, a malediction or just a bloody, dirty rotten boobytrap.

Or all three. Yet “Covid Crusader Gladys” is gaslighting 101, given that the former NSW premier craves approval above duty. She’s so keen to be the PM’s favourite in appeasing business at any price that her government is criminally lame, late and lax in its efforts to contain Delta.

True, her act could win a Cohen brothers’ award for its noir spin-fest. Her regime injects a dark comedy into its misgovernment by posing as libertarian or laissez-faire, a neoliberal state that looks after its people by doing as little as possible – lest it impinge upon their freedoms or family picnics.

Cue the sound of one invisible hand clapping – doing nothing undoes everything. The Covid Crusader’s government presides over the baffling mystery of who gave permission to the Ruby Princess to dock in Sydney 19 March 2020 and to let all 2650 passengers disembark.

It’s an enigma. At least the ruling elite’s cult de jour, our Hillsong prosperity gospellers, are allowed to come ashore and bring their covid infections with them. No-one is brought to account. What we do is have an inquiry.

Normalising corruption is something the Morrison government has turned into an art form, the embossed wallpaper of modern politics. Instead of penalties, Ministers get promotions. Witness sports rorts’ Bridget McKenzie. Back with not one but five portfolios.

In the end, Gladys makes a bad exit. Whilst she may appear to enjoy a type of celebrity, this is not to be confused with legitimacy.

Indeed, her authority is undermined by the corporate media’s wilful myth-making, in which she is taken captive, made into a type of mascot or trophy wife for appeasing business demands for as little regulation as possible.

Pernicious in the extreme is the idea that the premier’s blinkered, submissive diligence is good government. Or good leadership. But it’s alarmingly widespread and sedulously cultivated by those with vested interests in securing a compliant figurehead to legitimise their shady or unscrupulous dealing.

Gladys’ resignation should come as no surprise. It was inevitable from the moment she disclosed to the ICAC her secret relationship with Daryl Maguire, a grifter who could exploit and use her but only if she were prepared to let him.

Or aid and abet him. Ultimately “ I don’t need to know about that” is no protection at all but a facile and fatally compromising collusion.

Rather than rail against the ICAC, Ms Berejiklian should be grateful for it. For without it, who knows how much more trouble she could have got herself into? Not to mention how her manifest capacity for dud judgement would have caused even further suffering of those in her duty of care.

And rather than gut or defund our ICACS, we should ensure they have all the powers and resources they need. For without their vigilance, our Commonwealth would be a congeries of corruption, in which each state would engage in a free for all with the others to the detriment of the many for the benefit of a powerful few.

We’re halfway there already.

On her duel with the wallpaper of corruption, both must go but it is Gladys who must make the first exit. Let her PM follow her example.

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