CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – The leader of Australia’s most populous state resigned on Friday after an anti-corruption watchdog announced that he was being investigated over a secret relationship with a former lawmaker.
New South Wales Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian said it would distract her government at a critical time in the COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney if she stood aside while the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigated her.
The number of COVID-19 patients in Sydney hospitals is expected to peak in October as vaccination rates rise across the state and the city emerges from a lockdown that began in late June.
“My resignation as Prime Minister could not have come at a worse time, but the timing is completely beyond my control as the ICAC decided to take this action during the most difficult weeks of the most difficult times in the history of the state. That is the prerogative of the ICAC, “Berejiklian told reporters.
“The current resignation is against every instinct in my being and something I don’t want to do. But according to the statement made today, I was not given an option, ”she added.
ICAC, an independent state public sector watchdog, said it was investigating whether there was a conflict between the popular leader’s public duties and her secret personal relationship with former government colleague Daryl Maguire.
The five-year relationship, which ended, became public last year when Berejiklian testified in an ICAC investigation that Maguire had used his position as lawmaker to gain an undue advantage on himself and his employees. In 2018 he resigned from parliament.
Berejiklian is being investigated for government grants given or promised to community groups in the Maguire electorate.
She said she “always acted with the highest integrity.”
Berejiklian said her only regret about her resignation was that she failed to complete the task of ensuring the state’s transition from pandemic restrictions as vaccination rates rose.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a member of the Conservative Liberal Party of Berejiklian, called her a “person of the highest integrity”.
“Gladys is a dear friend, we’ve known each other for a long time. She had shown heroic qualities … as prime minister, “said Morrison.
Berejiklian was Minister of Government in 2014 when then Prime Minister Barry O’Farrell resigned on an ICAC investigation for failing to receive a bottle of Australian dollars ($ 2,800) worth of wine in a gift box.
Berejiklian’s government colleagues will elect a new prime minister on a date to be announced. She would leave politics in a by-election that has yet to be convened.