As an outsider with little inside knowledge, the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian at first glance appears to me to be an impressive politician. I have been impressed by her obvious intelligence, her handling of Covid and her dedication to public service. However she may not be in her job for much longer. After an astonishing revelation at an ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) inquiry, the Twitterati are questioning whether she will still be in office by the weekend. Knowing how the Australian political classes treat their wounded, I suspect they may well be right. One person said to me that our politicians must be above reproach – but if that were the case, would we have any left to vote for? The issue is not quite as simple as may at first appear.
The Premier was humiliated at the public ICAC hearing when she revealed that she had been in a five-year relationship with disgraced former Liberal MP, Daryl Maguire – who is being investigated for allegedly using his political position to help property developers – in other words financial corruption. Apart from the shock of finding out about the affair, the major concern is whether the Premier knew about and helped with the financial corruption. The inquiry will doubtless uncover that. Ms Berejiklian is adamant that she was not involved and regards the relationship itself as ‘a personal nightmare’. Another concern is over her personal judgement – firing Mr Maguire in 2018 over the financial scandal but remaining in a personal relationship with him until August of this year.
Meanwhile in Victoria, Dan Andrew’s most senior civil servant, Chris Eccles, has resigned after it was revealed he had ‘misled’ the hotel quarantine inquiry. This is the second major scalp that the inquiry has claimed – with the Health Minister Jenny Mikakos being compelled to resign after her own Premier blamed her for the fiasco.
Gladys (I have gotten into the wonderful Australian habit of referring to politicians by their first name) makes it clear that she considers there is a distinction between her private and her public life.
“I would never do anything to jeopardise my service to the people of this state…and have a very clear ability to separate my private life from what I do in the public interest”
Her Treasurer (and potential successor), Dominic Perrottet, defended her: “She is someone of the utmost integrity. Never have I seen someone work so hard a person of high integrity and honesty, and someone who puts the people of NSW first and foremost”
Of course, the difficulty is that private and public cannot be so easily separated. If a man or a woman cannot be trusted in their deepest most personal relationships, then why should they be trusted in public ones? Although in fairness it should be pointed out that Gladys Berijiklian is not married and as far as we know was betraying no other relationship.
Does the (sexual) morality of politicians matter? Boris Johnson has had several affairs and even paid for one of his mistresses to have an abortion. Prince Charles, the soon to be head of the Church of England committed adultery. When President Bill Clinton was accused of sexual immorality with an intern, evangelical leaders in the US, rushed to condemn him and point out that such a person was unfit for public office. When President Donald Trump is accused of immorality (of various sorts) some of those evangelical leaders seem to have changed their tune – and suggest that private morality does not matter in public office. Yet now we have other evangelical leaders stating that they are opposed to Donald Trump because of his moral character, and urging Christians to vote for a candidate whose policy includes a radical commitment to abortion. The church seems to be as confused as the world on these matters. We need some clear thinking and where better to turn for guidance than the Word of God.
Romans 13 told the Romans that they were to be ‘subject to the governing authorities’. The emperor Nero was the governing authority. He was hardly the model of morality! In a democracy of course we have the privilege of choosing our leaders but whilst their personal morality may influence our view of them and thus our vote, it would be somewhat irrational and hypocritical for us to demand moral purity for our politicians before we voted for them. I’m just wondering if we would have any left to vote for? What if we made moral purity the criteria for having a vote? Would the electorate not be considerably smaller?
None of this is to make light of sexual, or indeed any other kind of morality. Financial morality is just as important. The question of corruption is a key issue. It’s interesting how money, sex and power so often go together. Whilst the electorate can judge to some degree through the ballot box, all our politicians need to remember that they are answerable to a higher authority. Perhaps that would ask as a restraint?
“Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone” (John 8:7). It was disturbing to watch the journalists interrogating Gladys, and to read the self-righteous moralising in some of the press and indeed from other politicians. My own experience of the Scottish Parliament would suggest that if sexual immorality was a disqualifying factor, the parliament would be half empty. It was embarrassing to watch the Labor party here in NSW seeking to gain political advantage from something which if applied to them, would destroy them.
The ABC news headlines stated that she had ‘defended her relationship with Daryl McGuire’. That is precisely what she did not do. She defended her political behaviour. Yes – if she used her political influence to enable her friend to make money then she should and must resign. The jury is still out on that one. But the fact she had a boyfriend who was not to be trusted, is not a reason for her to step down. Nor should any of us sit in judgement upon her. That’s not our job.
Or let us put it another way. “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, who should stand?” (Psalm 130:3). Who will govern us when the last man, or woman standing has gone? To demand a world without any politican who lies, or is immoral in other ways, is to demand a world without any politicians. Indeed it is to demand a world without any humans.
Those of us who are Christians who think that we are beyond such sin need to heed Paul’s warning; “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful you don’t fall!”(1 Corinthians 10:12) . When I look into the clear mirror of God’s word, as opposed to the soiled mirror of today’s self-righteous morality, I see myself as ‘the chief of sinners’, not the judge. A couple of weeks ago I had to repent of my own judgementalism in this regard, it was a humbling experience. https://theweeflea.com/2020/10/04/letter-from-australia-63-i-am-trump/
As for Gladys, those of us who are Christians will uphold her in prayer and ask the Lord to have mercy upon her and us. She is a hardworking, intelligent, devoted politician. Although I have to add a caveat to that. Whilst we cannot judge her for her personal life – we can judge her on the basis of her political policies. Supporting abortion and euthanasia is a sin – against God and humanity – which is way beyond having a lying boyfriend and even beyond financial fraud. If Gladys recognises her role as the servant of God, then she will be humble enough to abide by the values of His Word. If she doesn’t then she is no better than those politicians who act as though they are God.