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Falling on one's sword

  • 14 October 2021
  During her last year in office Gladys Berejiklian divided people over her response to the Coronavirus. Even her critics, however, praised her decision to resign from office after the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) announced that it was investigating her conduct. 

On the surface her resignation was an event without consequence. A new premier was soon chosen and politics carried on as before. But at a deeper level her resignation made a strong statement about the way in which public life should be conducted, one which holds a mirror to all involved in it. Like Shakespeare’s historically based plays it prompted reflection on the significance of the human values involved in political life.

If the reports about Berejiklian’s resignation are to be believed, it followed consultation with Party members, which suggested that she faced no legal nor political barriers to her remaining in Office. The following morning, however, she announced her resignation on the grounds that she had required ministers in her government to stand down if under official investigation, and that she also must also do so. Furthermore, the State demanded stable and undistracted leadership that she would be unable to provide during the investigation.

I found her decision refreshing and surprising. Refreshing, because she did not attend only to its political but also to its ethical dimensions. Surprising, because today we commonly take it for granted in Australian political life that politicians will evade and deny responsibility for any a priori illegal or unethical behaviour, will not resign, and will continue to act in their own self-interest and that of their party. They will ask only what they can get away with and not what they ought do.

To describe it properly Berejiklian’s decision requires words that are unfashionable. Such words as responsibility, integrity and honour. They may seem to belong to an older age as descriptions of what is expected of politicians and of public life. Responsibility has many dimensions. It requires you to be responsible to yourself by being thoughtful and measured in what you do. It also requires you to take responsibility for what you have done. You may not conceal, minimise or lie about your actions, nor deflect responsibility to others. It demands, too, that you will be responsible to others. You will see your public role as a service to the people whom you represent, and will be transparent in your actions.

Integrity and honour are words also