‘She has an instinct for freedom’: Abbott backs Berejiklian federal tilt

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has backed ex-NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian to make a tilt at federal politics, saying her instinct for freedom and resistance of “virus panic” made it important she remained in public life.

Close confidantes of Ms Berejiklian have also privately urged her to run for Mr Abbott’s old seat of Warringah despite being under the cloud of a corruption inquiry, with one advising it was better to run sooner than later and “the best form of redemption is to fight and win Warringah”.

It came as senior government members, led by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday, ramped up calls for Ms Berejiklian to enter federal politics. Mr Morrison said she was a person of “great integrity” and had been the victim of a shameful “pile on” courtesy of the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the media.

At a press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Gladys Berejiklian had been the victim of a “pile on”.Credit:Dean Sewell

Earlier, Finance Minister and senior moderate faction member Simon Birmingham had told the ABC: “It’s pretty sad when ICACs go out and destroy reputations, do so in pretty murky ways, looking into relationships and other things”.

Meanwhile, Jason Falinski, Liberal MP for the neighbouring northern beaches seat of Mackellar, said the party was “putting Gladys forward” because she had good ideas about jobs, housing affordability and net zero – and they were not concerned about repercussions from a possible adverse finding by the ICAC.

“Most people in NSW have discounted the ICAC,” he said. “Our focus is on the people of Australia, not side games about whether [the ICAC] has discredited itself – it did that years ago. The only people who seem to give the ICAC any credibility are the media who enjoy the front page stories.”

Mr Abbott, a conservative Liberal who lost the formerly blue ribbon Sydney seat of Warringah in 2019 to independent Zali Steggall, told the Herald on Monday night that Ms Berejiklian’s management of COVID-19 in NSW made her a good candidate for federal politics.

“Gladys did a fine job as premier and was by far the best of them at resisting virus panic and calls for lockdowns,” he said. “We certainly need more people in Canberra with an instinct for freedom and a feel for small business and it would be good to keep Gladys in our public life.”

Several trusted colleagues and associates of Ms Berejiklian also indicated they had encouraged her to run. The sources – who declined to speak on the record – said they provided their views in the course of general conversation rather than Ms Berejiklian actively seeking advice.

One said Ms Berejiklian was interested and described the likelihood as: “The door is ajar, but not wide open”. Another ally said: “The longer she leaves her next run in politics the more challenging it will be and the best form of redemption is to fight and win Warringah.”

Ms Berejiklian resigned as premier two months ago after the ICAC revealed it was investigating whether she breached public trust or encouraged corrupt conduct during her secret relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire.

Gladys Berejiklian and Liberal senator Andrew Bragg at a Liberal Party function at Northbridge Golf Club on Sunday.Credit:Facebook

She has since maintained a low public profile but on Sunday attended a Liberal Party function at Northbridge Golf Club for Gail Giles-Gidney, the local mayor seeking preselection to replace her as member for Willoughby.

Ms Berejiklian posed for a photograph with Liberal senator Andrew Bragg, duty senator for the Warringah campaign, which he uploaded on social media. President of the Liberals’ Warringah electorate committee, Lee Furlong, commented “We [love heart] Gladys” on the post.

On Monday, Mr Morrison said it was “just awful” that details of Ms Berejiklian’s private life – including recorded conversations with her then secret boyfriend, disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire – had been “paraded around in the media”.

He said Ms Berejiklian was put in a position where she had to stand down as premier despite there being “no findings of anything [against her] … I don’t call that justice”.

The ICAC has not yet handed down its findings in its investigation of whether Ms Berejiklian breached public trust or encouraged corrupt conduct during her relationship with Mr Maguire.

Many Liberals believe Ms Berejiklian’s candidacy is the only way the party could win Warringah. Some believe she could instead run for the seat of Bennelong, where she grew up and where John Alexander is retiring, though those closest to her say that is highly unlikely.

Ms Steggall said it would be “an extraordinary change of position” for Ms Berejiklian to “go from considering it was necessary to stand down … to then turn around say it’s OK to run for federal politics despite that investigation still being on foot”.

She also accused Mr Morrison of undermining the ICAC “to create cover for his lack of appetite for accountability, especially of politicians”, amid debate about the adequacy of the government’s proposed federal corruption watchdog.

If Ms Berejiklian chooses not to run for Warringah, the most likely Liberal candidate would be barrister Jane Buncle.

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