Of course, corruption isn’t limited to the Premier State – Queensland had Sir Joh, WA had Brian Burke and Victoria currently has the only thing worse than corruption in government: incompetence in government.
However, the most shocking part of ICAC’s spectacular revelations about former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire is not how outrageous they are, but how pathetic.
Say what you like about NSW Labor, at least if you’ve committed corruption, you got it right. At the height of his power, Eddie Obeid ran the state government and half of Circular Quay. Daryl Maguire struggled to sell cutlery to the Wagga Wagga RSL.
But, of course, there is one tiny detail about the Maguire case that has caused an air of dismay: it just had an affair with the NSW Prime Minister.
There are no charges in front of the ICAC that the Prime Minister acted corruptly, but this is known in journalistic circles as a bit of yarn. No wonder many in the press are apoplectic and don’t believe that the yarn is spun as a pulp fiction novel about a sweet innocent woman who was picked up and betrayed by a seedy Shyster for his own nefarious purposes.
It’s implausible, they protest, pointing to tapes and text messages that clearly show that Gladys Berejiklian was at least passively informed about some of their beau’s deals.
But the funny thing about pulp fiction romances is that they fly off the shelves. And not because people actually believe them, but because they want to believe them.
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Indeed, forensic analysis of the evidence at ICAC can lead any journalist, lawyer or party broker to conclude that the prime minister’s position is clearly untenable. But the average voter doesn’t search the transcripts.
Instead, they see on the six o’clock news a courageous woman injustice who is noble even in the face of her humiliation.
Sure, it’s pure theater. But as the old saying goes, politics is only show business to ugly people.
Of course, Gladys is the opposite of ugly, which only increases her chances of survival. The aesthetic bar for politics is so low that any vaguely attractive politician is almost always the subject of weak worship – and no, before you say it, not just to women.
Contemplate the obsession with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s youthful looks, be it bearded or unborn, black-faced or white. Likewise with the French President Emmanuel Macron and his elderly wife.
And closer to home, we can see the myriad love letters to Victorian Premier Dan Andrews and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, some of which are disguised as highly productive social media posts and others as serious newspaper articles.
When Berejiklian came to power, the same upset circles feigned outrage that their relationship status was even mentioned in public comments about them. Now that status is the most critical factor in their political survival.
Because while simplistic idiots on the farthest edges view politics as black and white, in the real world everything is gray – and there are more than fifty shades.
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In a black and white world, Berejiklian would almost certainly have disappeared. Indeed, it is questionable whether a male prime minister who was publicly exposed on tape and said “I don’t need to know about this piece” – if his MP squeeze entrusted him with a questionable deal – would be eliminated immediately. Let’s not forget that Berejiklian’s mentor, Barry O’Farrell, fell on his sword because he forgot he received a nice bottle of wine.
But it’s not a black and white world. And when the Gladys bomb fell, it wasn’t even a gray one. It was a bright and sunny day in Sydney, and the streets and parks were full of people eating, drinking, laughing and walking.
If you looked at the scene, you’d have no idea that the state is grappling with a crippling global pandemic. At least not until you turned on the news to be reminded that the Victorians were still masked and imprisoned – with terrible spikes in mental health problems and self-harm – thanks to grotesque government failure and ideological zeal.
Now, I’m not a pollster, but I’d bet on Daryl Maguire’s bill that all these people would say Gladys saved Australia’s largest and most vulnerable state from unbroken misery, so she can fuck who she likes.
Is that squeaky clean? Is that technically correct? Is that perfectly rational? No.
But is it true? That is a completely different question.
Joe Hildebrand is the co-host of the politics podcast I’m Usually More Professional and nights out with John Stanley on Thursdays at 8pm on 2GB.
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