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June 16, 2024

Unpacking the Gladys Trap

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New premier Gladys Berejiklian. Photo Crikey

I met former NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, when we were working for NSW Liberal Opposition Leader, Peter Collins, in 1996. 

I was policy director, and she was research officer – we shared an office in the leader’s suite, next door to the kitchen, where we made morning coffee, waiting impatiently for clunky computers to power up.

She was my friend, who referred to me for two decades as her mentor. 

At the time, Gladys was tasked with ringing MPs’ offices to deliver instructions from the leader. 

I sat next to her with every phone call. She began tentatively with: ‘I am so sorry to disturb you’. She was blushing and awkward. Eventually, I said to her ‘Glad, you shouldn’t start every phone call with an apology. It’s giving them the impression the message is not important. Yes, we need to be respectful, but don’t make them feel like they are giving you a favour by talking to you’. 

‘You will end up with them treating you as an inferior’. 

When Gladys started her education, she was the only Armenian in her school, and she didn’t speak any English. Her success highlights the value of public school education, and shows how determination and diligence can overcome personal challenges. 

Gladys did conquer all, and grew up to become the pride of Sydney’s close-knit Armenian community. 

She confided in me the sense of duty this brought, and that she could only marry an Armenian boy. Anyone else would be a massive disappointment to her parents. Surely, there was someone she might meet who was both Armenian and who she might love? 

We cannot know the future. But Gladys, aged in her mid 20s, was completely certain. Why? 

‘Because it’s such a small community, and I already know all of them – there isn’t anyone to change my mind’. 

It was a startling revelation. She had pretty much ruled herself out of having her own family, and turned instead to her Liberal peers for her personal identity. 

And she did forge amazing friendships and alliances. She was witty, humble and incredibly hardworking – pouring herself into politics and taking advice from power brokers. 

Everyone loved Gladys, she was a warrior for the Liberals, and she didn’t dabble in the dark arts of leaking and destroying people; so she was trusted. 

The problem is honest, smart, dedicated Gladys never seemed to grasp the power of her own popularity. 

What the public saw of Gladys was completely legit. She is the de-escalator of conflict, getting on with the job that drama-averse men particularly appreciate. 

But when it came to her premiership, Gladys fell into a trap. 

Nefarious characters she pleased and appeased on the way up got the return on their investment. It came at a cost, and tainted her leadership.

One moment at the ICAC hearings encapsulated the ‘Gladys Trap’. 

She was asked about her intervention to award grants to the Wagga Wagga electorate of her secret lover, disgraced Liberal MP, Daryl Maguire. 

She was asked about the integrity of her decisions with the grants, given they failed the merit test, which is a requirement. 

Gladys insisted that all the grant decisions had integrity. 

‘I have always acted with integrity’, she told the ICAC hearings. 

Pressed further, she expanded, ‘I have a duty to the public, and a duty to the government’.

When she refers to ‘government’, of course, she means the Liberal and National parties. It was her job to lead them to victory at the next election.

This is about power, and what fear of losing it can do to a person with it.

Image supplied.

What Gladys did, at least in her own mind, was conveniently conflate the public interest with the LNP’s political interests, on the basis she is beholden to those party colleagues who made her leader. 

Many of her past decisions that bewildered me suddenly made sense. 

This included dumping Gillian Skinner, who was a successful and respectful health minister, to make room for factional allies – all of them men. This reduced the number of women in Cabinet. She also appointed two male presiding officers in parliament. These decisions exacerbated the ‘women problem’ in the Liberal Party.

The logic of ‘I have a duty to re-elect the government’ justifies almost anything. She can look you in the eye and say the decisions were ‘based on merit’. 

It turns out the merit was not defined in the public interest at all – it was just her view that she was the best person to lead the government. 

Because these decisions didn’t fatten her own bank account, she continued to claim ‘integrity’ – something I know the younger version of Gladys would never have done. It seems to have been a navigation tool she developed for hard choices as leader. 

Listening to her incredible evidence to ICAC, I momentarily glimpsed my former friend, recalling her first days at school without any English – desperate to fit in, to please, and to make something of herself. 

I do believe she was exploited, not just by Daryl Maguire, but by those who wanted her to follow the ‘two duties’ culture. As premier, it was her responsibility to recognise this as incompatible and stand up to it. 

Wilful blindness is a dangerous trap at the top. Whether it was the captain of the Titan ignoring advice, the aborted Russian Coup, or the long-awaited release of the ICAC report, where Gladys allowed her friends to cloud her judgement – in every case, a leaders’ wilful blindness to difficult truths inflicts consequences and costs.

Catherine Cuasck is a former Liberal MLC and is based in Lennox Head.


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10 COMMENTS

  1. Oh know, a bad boyfriend and others made her do it. Come on she was the leader and got there by being assertive and knowingly made deals. She is responsible for her actions which she knowingly did.

    • Wow with a “mentor” like this why would Gladys need enemies? I’ve heard more from Catherine Cusack this year through her opinion pieces than in her entire career supposedly spent representing our region as an upper house MP. She is second only to Tamara Smith as a non-entity and just as dull.

      • Catherine Cusack was a member of the Legislative Council, and as such was not “supposedly ” representing our region,but all of NSW. Her residence here, particularly going through the floods, did inform her decision making and ultimately her resignation. I would suggest Gladys had a very good mentor in Catherine, particularly as a woman and in developing assertiveness , a trait Catherine coming from a very successful business and sporting family never lacked. That showed in Gladys’s premiership which while ultimately flawed was successful in many achievements and popular too .

  2. ” ‘I have a duty to the public, and a duty to the government’.” all of which obviously meant nothing to this corrupt but unapologetic, self-entitled
    travesty of public -service.
    With friends like her who needs enemies ? She should be behind bars.
    Cheers, G”)

  3. A NSW Government committee report on coercive control was handed down three months before Gladys resigned as Premier.

    Given the value of the new coercive control laws to provide Gladys with a defence, her involvement in them looks corrupt to me. As does the long stalling of the ICAC report into her conduct (while commencement of the new laws is pending).

    Bjelke-Peterson would have been impressed

    • Turns out a big reason in the delay was the statutory requirement to provide the accused with an opportunity to address the findings & given six-months to reply. Gladys didn’t respond & merely dragged it out to make the ICAC look bad

  4. Gladys is an extremely lucky woman in that ICAC, although finding that she did engage in corrupt activities, did not recommend criminal charges be laid, maybe because she did not appear to have benefited financially and was was probably the only thing that saved her sorry corrupt arse. Gladys is a well educated intelligent woman, if she did not see what Maguire was up to, she certainly should have. The whole Berejiklian/ Barilaro Coalition Govt was no doubt rotten to the core, and it’s a real shame more of the corrupt mongrels have not so far been brought to justice.

  5. Not one politician in this country would be innocent regarding using power to get a head start
    On the general lay population in any situation
    If it was legal or not so.. Scratch my back i will
    Scratch yours.. ! The Premier got caught out
    Turned a blind eye to her bad choice of a partner’s
    Activities.. surely red flags where popping up
    Before his illegal activities were noticeable..!
    Loneliness alone cannot be blamed for the Premiers lack of judgement.. not a good look !

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