The resignation of former NSW premier Gladys Berijiklian was indeed an act of integrity. To fall on her sword when she could have just stepped aside pending the outcome of the ICACinvestigation spoke of her courage and desire to do the right thing.
The events that led to her resignation, however, had nothing much to do with integrity at all.
Integrity would have come in handy in those "unseen" moments in her relationship, when she consciously chose not to listen to her own gut instinct and internal integrity radar and speak up, but instead to essentially allow disgraced MP Daryl Maguire to do what he did, as long as she wasn't involved and she wasn't made aware of it.
The former premier set standards for her government from the day she took office. The press conference during which she announced her resignation showed she had the capability to meet those standards, while also doing the right thing by the people of her state. But she also knew if she stayed and tried to defend her actions, that would create a cloud around all her government's achievements.
The premier's PR engine initially managed the revelation of her relationship with Maguire well. Tell the truth, and get out in front of the story. However, when she said in a press conference after the story did break that this was just a case of "putting trust in the wrong person", the die was cast.
NSW's Independent Commission Against Corruption is a wholly independent corruption watchdog and investigates actual breaches, not anyone's "intention" to do the right thing. In this case, the premier's failure to act in the face of questionable activity was enough for the body to launch an investigation.
Integrity was once defined by C. S. Lewis as "doing the right thing even when no one is watching". We are all human, and we all make mistakes - especially sometimes saying and doing dumb things in the name of love. But the problem here is one of public trust - and the expectations of the office which the former premier held.
The issue is that she essentially turned a blind eye to Daryl Maguire's transgressions, potentially leading to her own integrity boundaries being stretched by her ex-partner. Once that line was crossed, it was inevitable that the premier herself would come under scrutiny. It is for this reason that public trust was broken. When Maguire spoke of his plans, something must have twisted inside her gut, leading her to tell him, "I don't need to know about that bit." Her own integrity radar was pinging that lines were being crossed, and she couldn't be part of it. But you can't unhear what you've just heard.
ICAC's decision to announce the investigation when it did was the right one. It can't sit on allegations until it is more convenient to begin proceedings - and COVID isn't going anywhere soon. Its members are doing what they are paid to do.
As for Berejikilian, her reputation at this stage remains mostly intact - but she leaves office with the inglorious honour of being the third NSW premier to fall to the watchdog's investigations.
- Donna Bates is a strategic business growth and integrity specialist with Onpoint! Strategy.