A former counsel assisting ICAC says the watchdog’s decision to investigate NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian shows the need to protect integrity in the public sector.
Geoffrey Watson SC, a Sydney barrister and board member at the Centre for Public Integrity, said the decision would have taken ICAC weeks of investigation and careful consideration.
“As far as I am concerned it is a great moment for the public sector because it shows the integrity agency, which isn’t just focused on politicians, and is willing to take action against the most high, the most powerful, the most popular and operates without judgement,” Watson told The Mandarin.
As Berejiklian cast her resignation as unable to “occur at a worse time” and suggested that ICAC’s action came during “the most challenging time in the state’s history”, Watson said there would be no right time to investigate.
“Quite frankly that is just a de facto message that you shouldn’t be doing this at all,” he said.
“The issues which arise, the integrity of the decision making of the public sector, are more important than immediate political issues.”
Watson said he knew decisions at ICAC were only made after “an agonisingly detailed examination of the right thing to do”.
“I have 100% confidence that this would have only been taken after a great deal of attention paid to where the facts led,” he said.
Watson said the episode reinforced the need for a federal ICAC with powers to investigate politicians.
“We need our politicians to know that somebody will scrutinise the fair dealing and good administrative aspects of their practices,” he said.
It came as NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet nominated to become the state’s next premier and Stuart Ayres to become deputy Liberal leader.
And following Berejiklian’s resignation on Friday, NSW deputy premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro has signalled that he will resign too.
Perrottet and Ayres told media on Sunday they would bring “stability, unity and experience” to the party’s leadership if elected for the roles on Tuesday.
“I have no doubt that NSW will come through this difficult time just like we did last year, to not just recover but come out the other side much stronger,” Perrottet said.
Barilaro said in a statement on Monday morning that the state emerging from lockdown in coming weeks created an opportunity “for a refresh”.
“I have decided now is the right time for me to hand over the reins to new leadership,” he said, adding that he would formally resign on Wednesday and call a ballot for a new leader.