Leader of Australia’s most populous state resigns as corruption watchdog launches investigation

The leader of New South Wales — Australia’s most populous state — announced her resignation Friday after the state’s corruption watchdog said it was investigating her.

“It pains me to announce that I have no option but to resign from the office of premier,” Gladys Berejiklian said a briefing where she did not take questions from reporters.

She said her resignation will take effect as soon as the state’s Liberal party can elect a new leader.

“In order to allow the new leader and government a fresh start, I will also resign from the New South Wales parliament once I have consulted the electoral commission on appropriate timing for a by-election,” Berejiklian added.

The investigation heightens scrutiny on Berejiklian, who had faced mounting criticism over her government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis in New South Wales.

What happened?
The New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption said it was investigating whether some of Berejiklian’s actions between 2012 and 2018 may have breached public trust. It said it was looking into instances where grants were awarded or promised to community organizations in the electorate of Wagga Wagga.

In a public inquiry scheduled for Oct. 18, the commission will examine whether there was a conflict between Berejiklian’s public duties and private interests. At the time, Berejiklian was in a secret relationship with state legislator Daryl Maguire, who was then member of parliament for Wagga Wagga.

Local media reports said Berejiklian had confirmed her relationship with Maguire during an ICAC hearing last year.

The ICAC is also looking into whether Maguire, who resigned from parliament in 2018, breached public trust by using his public office to improperly gain a benefit for himself and his associates.

Berejiklian described the issues under investigation as “historic matters,” and said the ICAC announcement left her with no choice but to resign since the state needs certainty in challenging times like the pandemic.

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

“My resignation as premier could not occur at a worse time but the timing is completely outside of my control as the ICAC has chosen to take this action during the most challenging weeks of the most challenging time in the state’s history,” she said.

“Resigning at this time is against every instinct in my being and something which I do not want to do,” she added.

Australia’s Covid situation
New South Wales has more than 10,000 active Covid cases, second only to the state of Victoria, government data showed.

State restrictions led to anti-lockdown protests in major cities like Sydney and Melbourne where the police clashed with thousands of protestors.

Both New South Wales and Victoria have announced plans to loosen some restrictions once 70% of their populations are fully vaccinated. Both states are reportedly projected to achieve that figure this month.

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