News Scandal on the east coast: Three leaders face a day of reckoning
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Scandal on the east coast: Three leaders face a day of reckoning

The pressure is rising for premiers Dan Andrew and Gladys Berejiklian. Photo: TND
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A chaotic week in Australian politics has two state premiers and an opposition leader facing calls to resign with parliaments down the east coast in meltdown over a series of powerful internal inquiries.

And it’s only Wednesday.

With Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese touring the country to spruik their budget plans, and federal Parliament on a break until next week, the spotlight is firmly on mounting scandals erupting in state parliaments.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has come under relentless scrutiny after her secret relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire, who is currently at the centre of a major corruption probe, came to light.

On Wednesday, Mr Maguire will come under the microscope for allegedly using his parliamentary office for personal gain at a hearing of ICAC while Ms Berejiklian will face a vote of no confidence in NSW Parliament.

Meanwhile, Queensland opposition leader Deb Frecklington, just weeks from a state poll, has denied explosive reports she has been referred to an election watchdog over potentially illegal fundraising.

politics
Three party leaders face significant political challenges. Photo: TND

And Victoria’s Daniel Andrews faces further questions related to hotel quarantine after his state’s top public servant abruptly resigned over a key phone call at the heart of an inquiry.

Mr Andrews faced a no-confidence motion in the Victorian parliament on Tuesday night when Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien called on Labor MPs to cross the floor to vote against a “dangerous and arrogant” premier.

After a marathon sitting that stretched late into the night, it became clear Labor colleagues were standing by the Premier when the no-confidence motion was clearly defeated 44-23.

It was a moment of relief for the government that has been criticised for locking down the state and imposing a 5km travel limit on Melburnians, and proof of a party united on its road out of the coronavirus (publicly, at least).

It’s unlikely to silence the questions for Mr Andrews, but he can take comfort knowing he’s not the only state leader under the microscope.

New South Wales

Ms Berejiklian continues to insist she has “done nothing wrong” in her dealings with Daryl Maguire, the former Wagga Wagga MP embroiled in the ICAC’s Operation Keppel.

He resigned from Parliament in 2018, after a separate corruption investigation, but this one is probing whether he used public office and parliamentary resources to improperly gain benefit for himself or a company he is alleged to have “effectively controlled”.

Ms Berejiklian was called before the inquiry on Monday, where she made the gobsmacking admission she had been in a five-year “close personal relationship” with Mr Maguire from 2015 until earlier this year – two years after she sacked him from the Liberal Party.

Ms Berejiklian said she did nothing wrong. Photo: AAP

She claimed she had no idea of the conduct he has been accused of by Operation Keppel, but multiple secretly recorded phone calls reveal Mr Maguire told her of numerous business dealings he was part of.

In several calls, Ms Berejiklian is heard to say variations of “I don’t need to know about that”.

ICAC also heard Mr Maguire used Ms Berejiklian’s office to host a meeting between Roads Minister Melinda Pavey and developer Louise Waterhouse, who wanted to sell land.

The Premier strenuously denied any wrongdoing but is now facing a vote of no-confidence in state Parliament on Wednesday.

Labor leader Jodi McKay accused Ms Berejiklian of having “turned a blind eye to corruption by failing to report her knowledge of Daryl Maguire’s business dealings for six and a half years, even after his resignation from Parliament in July 2018”.

Berejiklian’s appearance at ICAC was a bombshell. Photo: ICAC

The Premier’s colleagues lined up behind her in support, including the most likely possible replacement in Treasurer Dom Perrottet, Health Minister Brad Hazzard and Transport Minister Andrew Constance, as well as federal leaders Mr Morrison and Mr Albanese.

It seems unlikely the Premier will be forced to resign at this stage.

However, Mr Maguire will appear before ICAC on Wednesday and Thursday, with potential for further explosive revelations.

Watch this space.

Queensland

A bomb was thrown into the state election just weeks from polling day, with the ABC reporting Liberal leader Ms Frecklington had been reported to the state electoral watchdog by her party over legal concerns about fundraising.

It was reported by the ABC that Liberal sources had concerns about her attendance at events also attended by property developers, who are banned from making political donations under state law.

The ABC reported sources claimed attendees were asked to ‘funnel’ money to the Liberal Nationals through third-party accounts.

Scott Morrison was with Deb Frecklington in Queensland this week. Photo: AAP

Ms Frecklington, already a slim chance of unseating Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, was forced into damage control on Tuesday as she denied the report’s accuracy.

Instead, she said the party “routinely” asked the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) for advice on the “complex” laws around donations.

“I haven’t heard from them [the ECQ] at all,” Ms Frecklington said.

“Let’s make it really clear, I stand by my integrity.”

“It’s just absolutely not correct.”

Ms Palaszczuk claimed the “very serious issues” needed a “full explanation”.

Victoria

In Melbourne, the state’s hotel quarantine inquiry continues to send shockwaves through state Parliament.

Another scalp was claimed on Monday, with Chris Eccles, the secretary to the Department of Premier and Cabinet, quitting after it was revealed he made a previously-unknown phone call which could be crucial in understanding how the decision to use private security in the quarantine program was made.

That would likely have been the big political story of the day on Monday, if not for Ms Berejiklian’s shock revelation.

chris eccles hotel inquiry
Mr Eccles abruptly resigned Monday.

Premier Andrews announced on Sunday he would hand over phone records from his department to the inquiry.

On Monday, Mr Eccles announced his shock resignation, after revealing he had made a two-minute phone call to then-police chief commissioner Graham Ashton during a critical – and currently in question – window on the day the program was locked in.

Questions have swirled over exactly which public servant made the decision to go with private security over police or military staff in the hotel quarantine scheme.

The inquiry has focused largely on a meeting between the Premier’s office, police and health officials on March 27, and on Monday, Mr Eccles revealed he had made a call to Mr Ashton that was previously not disclosed.

Just minutes after the call, records show Mr Ashton told Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw that Victoria would use private security.

Mr Andrews said he was “shocked” to learn of this phone call on Sunday, and did not previously know about it. However, he too is now under pressure to detail what – if anything – he knew about the call between his department secretary and the police commissioner.

The hotel quarantine inquiry has concluded hearings and is due to lodge a report in early November.

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