CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The leader of Australia’s most populous state quit Friday after an anti-corruption watchdog revealed it was investigating her over a secret relationship with a former lawmaker.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that standing aside while the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigated her would distract her government at a critical stage of Sydney’s COVID-19 outbreak.
Numbers of COVID-19 patients in Sydney hospitals are expected to peak during October as vaccination rates rise across the state and the city emerges from a lockdown that began in late June.
“My resignation as premier could not have occurred 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 times in the state’s history. That is the ICAC’s prerogative,” Berejiklian told reporters.
“Resigning at this time is against every instinct in my being and something which I do not want to do. But I have been given no option following the statement that’s been issued today,” she added.
ICAC, an independent state-based public sector watchdog, said it was investigating whether there was conflict between the popular leader’s public duties and her undisclosed personal relationship with former government colleague Daryl Maguire.
The five-year relationship that has ended became public last year when Berejiklian gave evidence to an ICAC investigation into whether Maguire used his position as a lawmaker to gain an improper benefit for himself and his associates. He resigned from Parliament in 2018.
Berejiklian will be investigated over government grants awarded or promised to community groups in Maguire’s electorate.
She said she had “always acted with the highest level of integrity.”
Berejiklian said her only regret in resigning was not being able to finish the job of ensuring the state’s transition from pandemic restrictions as vaccination rates rise.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is a member of Berejiklian’s conservative Liberal Party, described her as a “person of the highest integrity.”
“Gladys is a dear friend, we’ve known each other for a long time. She had displayed heroic qualities … as the premier,” Morrison said.
Berejiklian was a government minister in 2014 when then-Premier Barry O’Farrell resigned over an ICAC investigation into his failure to declare receiving a 3,000 Australian dollar ($2,800) bottle of wine on a gift register.
Berejiklian’s government colleagues will elect a new premier at a date to be announced. She would leave politics at a by-election which has yet to be called.