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Following the surprise resignation of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, four men are jockeying for the job. By Rick Morton.

Who will replace Gladys Berejiklian?

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian during the press conference to announce her resignation.
Credit: AAP / Bianca De Marchi

Four men are now vying to replace Gladys Berejiklian as the New South Wales premier after she announced her resignation about 1pm on Friday. Her decision followed revelations she had become the subject of a corruption watchdog investigation into possible breaches of “public trust”.

The Liberal leader will quit politics entirely once a date for a byelection in her seat of Willoughby can be agreed.

In a rushed statement, and taking no questions, Berejiklian took a swipe at the Independent Commission Against Corruption for announcing at the “worst time” its decision to begin an investigation into her decision-making while she secretly dated former MP Daryl Maguire.

“The timing is completely outside my control,” she said on Friday afternoon, “as the ICAC has chosen to take this action during the most challenging weeks of the most challenging times in the state’s history. That is the ICAC’s prerogative.

“Resigning at this time is against every instinct in my being and something that I do not want to do. I love my job and I love the community, but I have been given no option following the statement that has been issued today.”

The ICAC statement said a further public inquiry of Operation Keppel, the investigation originally formed to probe the actions of former Wagga Wagga MP Maguire, will begin at 10am on Monday, October 11.

In this hearing, the commission will examine whether “between 2012 and 2018… Gladys Berejiklian engaged in conduct that constituted or involved a breach of public trust by exercising public functions in circumstances where she was in a position of conflict between her public duties and her private interest”.

That “private interest” relates to her ongoing personal relationship with Maguire, which continued even after she asked for his resignation from the Liberal Party and then state parliament following a separate corruption scandal.

Berejiklian became embroiled in the affair last year when she was called to the ICAC stand as a witness and asked to listen to tapped phone conversations between herself and Maguire.

Renewed interest from the watchdog – which also ended former Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell’s political career in 2014 over a “massive memory fail” and a bottle of expensive wine – arises from a possible intervention by Berejiklian while treasurer into the grant of $5.5 million to the Australian Clay Target Association Inc in 2016/17.

The ABC revealed the grant last year and in August obtained documents that showed Maguire wrote to Berejiklian advocating for the funding, which was set aside before the sporting group had made a formal application for the grant. The then treasurer would ordinarily have chaired the committee that approved such a request and Berejiklian had herself written to Maguire thanking him for bringing the matter to her attention.

The ICAC will also scrutinise “grant funding promised and/or awarded to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Wagga Wagga in 2018” and whether she allowed the ongoing or potential corrupt conduct of Maguire.

Berejiklian may also be on the hook for the “dishonest or partial exercise” of her parliamentary functions by refusing to “report any matter that she suspected on reasonable grounds concerned or may concern corrupt conduct”.

On Friday, the outgoing premier said: “I have absolutely no regrets during my time in public life. In all the decisions I have ever made as a minister or as premier of NSW my first consideration has always been the wellbeing and welfare of the people of this state.

“I state categorically I have always acted with the highest level of integrity.”

Berejiklian will remain in her role until her colleagues can hold a vote to elect a new leader, likely this Monday or Tuesday.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, from the right wing of the party, has long been considered an heir apparent to the top job, but it is the moderate faction in NSW that has the most control. Within parliament, Planning Minister Rob Stokes and Minister for Jobs Stuart Ayres are also considered to be contenders for the leadership. Bega MP and Transport Minister Andrew Constance, who gained significant attention during the Black Summer bushfire crisis, has also coveted the job.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 1, 2021 as "Who will replace Gladys Berejiklian?".

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Rick Morton is The Saturday Paper’s senior reporter.