Gladys Berejiklian has resigned as NSW premier after the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) announced it is investigating whether she breached “public trust” arising from a potential conflict of interest involving her personal relationship with disgraced former state MP Daryl Maguire.
Berejiklian, premier since 2017, told a news conference: “Resigning at this time is against every instinct in my being and something which I do not want to do.
"I love my job, and serving the community, but I have been given no option following the statement issued [by ICAC].”
She said standing aside wasn’t an option for her because the NSW people “need certainty as to who their leader is during these challenging times of the pandemic”.
“To continue as premier would disrupt the state government during a time when our entire attention should be focused on the challenges confronting New South Wales. I do not want to be a distraction from what should be the focus of the state government during this pandemic, which is the wellbeing of our citizens.”
She will also resign from state parliament.
Her shock resignation comes at a critical point in the state’s COVID crisis as it prepares to come out of lockdown, which is set to trigger increased cases and hospitalisations.
Scott Morrison has regarded Berejiklian as his closest ally among the premiers, notably because she favoured where possible keeping things open.
Morrison told a news conference she was a “dear friend”. He had always found her “a person of the highest integrity”.
ICAC is investigating her conduct between 2012 and 2018. It is looking at funding given to the Australian Clay Target Association and funding promised or awarded to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Wagga Wagga.
It is also investigating whether her conduct “was liable to allow or encourage” corrupt conduct by Maguire, who held the seat of Wagga Wagga between 1999 and 2018.
Berejiklian declared her innocence. “I state categorically, I have always acted with the highest level of integrity. History will demonstrate that I have always executed my duties with the highest degree of integrity for the benefit of the people of NSW.”
Berejiklian’s future was put in question when last year she gave evidence to ICAC about her close personal relationship with Maguire. During the hearing, damaging phone taps of calls between her and Maguire were played.
State treasurer Dominic Perrottet is considered the front-runner to replace her.
Berejiklian is the third Liberal premier to be claimed by ICAC – the others were Nick Greiner and Barry O'Farrell.