News Berejiklian plan ‘reeks of desperation’, Zali Steggall says, as she blasts ‘offensive’ PM
Updated:

Berejiklian plan ‘reeks of desperation’, Zali Steggall says, as she blasts ‘offensive’ PM

Zali Steggall v Berejiklian
Zali Steggall has weighed in on Gladys Berejiklian's potential federal switch. Photo: AAP
Share
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

The Coalition’s encouragement of Gladys Berejiklian to enter federal politics is a “distraction”, according to current Warringah MP Zali Steggall.

Ms Steggall, who pinched the blue-ribbon Sydney seat from the Liberals at the 2019 election, said she wouldn’t be fazed by facing the embattled former New South Wales premier – still under a corruption investigation – at the ballot box next year.

But she blasted Scott Morrison’s criticisms of NSW’s ICAC as “incredibly offensive”.

“It reeks of their desperation,” she told The New Daily.

“It says that at a federal level, in the Liberal Party, there’s a complete inability to grapple with the question of integrity.”

The drumbeat in federal Coalition circles for Ms Berejiklian to challenge in Warringah grew louder on Monday, as the Prime Minister and senior ministers Simon Birmingham and Sussan Ley heaped praise on the former premier.

Federal ICAC
Mr Morrison backed Ms Berejiklian. Photo: AAP

Despite a cloud hanging over her knowledge of corruption by ex-boyfriend Daryl Maguire, and the ICAC not likely to hand down its findings on her conduct until after a Liberal candidate is locked in, Mr Morrison said Ms Berejiklian would be a “great” candidate.

“If she wants to have a crack at Warringah for the Liberal Party, I suspect people would welcome that,” Mr Morrison said.

Ms Steggall beat another controversial former Liberal leader in Tony Abbott to win her seat in 2019.

Since then, she has campaigned strongly for a federal anti-corruption body, and pushed for more urgent climate action.

On Monday, she said the government’s escalating criticisms of NSW’s ICAC showed it was “out of touch”.

“I find it highly inappropriate and wrong the way Scott Morrison and other ministers are leaning on an administrative body, which is doing very important work,” Ms Steggall said.

“This really raises the broader question of integrity. This is Scott Morrison doing what he does best, distracting public discussion away from holding him to account.”

Ms Berejiklian’s potential entry as a federal candidate would likely supercharge a Commonwealth anti-corruption body as a national election issue, further exposing the Coalition’s failure to legislate such a body nearly 1100 days after proposing one.

Mr Morrison on Monday called Ms Berejiklian’s treatment “shameful” and a “pile-on”.

He has previously been strongly critical of the NSW ICAC, describing it as a “kangaroo court” in parliamentary comments during the last sitting fortnight.

Ms Steggall claimed those criticisms were “incredibly offensive and potentially defamatory”.

gladys berejiklian icac
Ms Berejiklian gives evidence at ICAC.

“He was calling into question the professionalism of ICAC,” she said.

“He was using what we call the ‘coward’s castle’ of question time, where he attacked ICAC under the cloak of parliamentary privilege while opposing a federal integrity commission with the power to have public hearings.”

The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday quoted a so-called “senior Liberal” saying “the feds clearly don’t care” about the active corruption probe.

Ms Steggall said the ICAC probe’s findings, which could be handed down in the middle of an election campaign, “absolutely” mattered.

“If that’s genuinely what senior members of the Liberals believe, it only reinforces how out of touch they’ve become from the standards and expectations of the public,” she said.

Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen, speaking at the National Press Club, said the government would not “get a leave pass” from the Opposition, if Ms Berejiklian was preselected.

He called Mr Morrison’s criticisms of ICAC “disgusting”, claiming the PM “undermined” the body.

“I invite you to reflect on what would be said by you and by the Liberal Party if a Labor premier, under investigation by ICAC, who had to resign, was contemplating a move to federal Parliament,” he told journalists.

Mr Morrison said the Liberals would “let the people decide”.

Petitions calling for Ms Berejiklian to be reinstated as NSW premier garnered thousands of signatures.

Liberal preselection for Warringah has been extended until January, reportedly to allow Ms Berejiklian more time to consider.

Ms Steggall won Warringah in 2019 by a 57-43 two-party margin over Mr Abbott.

As the Liberals continued courting Ms Berejiklian, Ms Steggall launched her volunteer campaign on Sunday, with hundreds of locals massing in her signature turquoise T-shirts.

Under a slogan of “catch the new wave”, Ms Steggall assembled more than 300 volunteers who will underpin her ground game through the election campaign, following a huge community groundswell of support in 2019.

The Liberals have pinpointed Warringah as a key hope in their re-election campaign.

With Labor hoping to pick up seats in Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland, the Coalition would likely have to make gains in NSW to offset losses elsewhere.

Despite the ICAC cloud still hanging over Ms Berejiklian, the government believes her name recognition and popularity among locals – her former state seat of Willoughby directly borders the federal seat of Warringah – could offset fallout from the corruption probe.

Numerous Liberals have publicly welcomed the prospect of Ms Berejiklian joining them in Canberra, while others are working to unseat Ms Steggall.

Senator Andrew Bragg operates a “ZaliHasFailed.com” website, while Jason Falinski – from the neighbouring electorate of Mackellar – has recently taken to criticising her on Twitter.

Tim Wilson, assistant minister for industry and energy, said on Tuesday Ms Berejiklian’s potential run would be “a Christmas miracle”.

Two weeks ago, he placed an image of Ms Berejiklian in the place of an angel atop his office Christmas tree.

Ms Steggall said she wasn’t worried about the potential star challenger.

“I’ve been to four Olympic Games. You can’t control who you’re against, but you can control what you do,” she said.

“It doesn’t impact my approach. We’re incredibly well organised. I have no doubt the Liberals will throw everything at me. They feel entitled, they feel they own Warringah, but there’s no talk of what policy would be brought here – just talk of winning it back.

“Scott Morrison hasn’t progressed climate policy from Tony Abbott. They still have a policy of 26 to 28 per cent reductions. It was the policy Tony brought to the 2019 election and was soundly rejected.”