Her resignation was swift and, to many voters, came as a shock.
Gladys Berejiklian, one of Australia's most popular premiers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, had stood down, within hours of the powerful NSW anti-corruption body announcing it was investigating her conduct.
An outpouring of tributes from some was tinged with anger.
Ms Berejiklian's departure has reignited claims that ICAC - the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption - has become too powerful, chopping down leaders before wrongdoing is established. And, staring down pressure from Labor and the crossbench, Prime Minister Scott Morrison seized the moment to flatly reject the NSW model for the federal government.
"You've got to have processes that assume people are innocent before they are thought to be guilty," he told the Seven Network.
"I'm sure there are millions of people who are seeing what's happened to Gladys Berejiklian and understand that's a pretty good call not to follow that model."
Assistant Attorney-General Amanda Stoker joined the chorus, warning "all-powerful armies of lawyers" were destroying lives over "trivialities".
But as the government faces accusations of pork-barrelling over the sports rorts and car park rorts sagas, experts are deriding its plan for a federal corruption agency as a toothless tiger, designed to cocoon politicians from the consequences of wrongdoing.
The system, unveiled by then-attorney-general Christian Porter in November, is divided into halves: one for law enforcement, the other for public servants and politicians.
Investigations into the latter would be limited to criminal conduct, and findings critical "either expressly or impliedly" of a politician would not be made public.
Those witnessing corruption could not report it directly to the watchdog, instead needing to pass their complaint on to law enforcement or a government agency for referral.
The Centre for Public Integrity's Stephen Charles, a former judge who advised the Victorian government on its own watchdog, dismisses that requirement as a means to stifle complaints.
Charles warns the plan would create an "absurd and astonishing" situation, with a person who saw a politician receiving a paper bag full of cash unable to go directly to the corruption watchdog.
"But even if they did an investigation in private and found [the allegation was true] ... they could not say that in the report, because it would be at least an implied criticism," he says.
One of Porter's key justifications against public hearings was avoiding reputational damage done to politicians called to give evidence. That protection was not extended to law enforcement.
High-profile executives were also grilled publicly throughout the banking royal commission, implemented by the Coalition, while hearings on alleged misconduct by judges also take place in the open.
"They're perfectly happy to have [law enforcement, executives and judges] exposed to public reports with findings of corrupt conduct," Charles says.
"These people, in other words, are prepared to have everybody else dealt with in public but, for some reason, not parliamentarians."
Charles argues an effective corruption agency "has to go outside crime" to raise standards in the public service and Parliament House. Funding for sporting organisations or car parks do not suggest wrongdoing on their face, he says.
"It's only when you investigate it ... that you realise the purpose of it is to assist the Coalition in the election," he says.
"Corruption so often is not a crime, so all these conflict-of-interest problems would not be able to be investigated."
Public hearings could prompt other people to come forward with evidence, and politicians would fear political blowback for misusing taxpayers' money, he says.
"It doesn't necessarily mean that you will lose your seat, because the public may like you enough to want to keep you there regardless," he says.
"[But there would be] serious embarrassment and, one would like to think, serious consequences in electoral terms."
Berejiklian maintained a secret relationship with disgraced NSW MP Daryl Maguire, even after sacking him for corruption.
Her own resignation came the same day ICAC announced it was investigating her, but two weeks before public hearings are set to begin. Despite always having denied wrongdoing, she conceded it would be untenable to continue as Premier while under a cloud.
She is the third NSW premier brought down by ICAC - following Nick Greiner in 1992 and Barry O'Farrell in 2014 - along with a bevy of politicians across the aisle.
In a 2019 submission on the federal government's proposal, the Law Council of Australia - then under the presidency of Berejiklian's current partner Arthur Moses - called for investigative hearings to be held in private.
Findings would only be made public if the commission decided conduct warranted prosecution in criminal courts.
"It has been a valid criticism that public hearings conducted by state anti-corruption bodies such as ICAC in NSW can take on the flavour of a 'show trial'," the submission read.
The LCA said allegations are often aired publicly during "what is going to be an investigation only", without the subject being afforded the normal presumption of innocence and access to legal counsel.
It pointed to Queensland, where hearings are generally not open to the public, as the model to adopt.
Former attorney-general Philip Ruddock accepts Berejiklian's conduct should be "clearly examined". But he is concerned that involving a corruption watchdog in the case, which he says related to her "probity" rather than corruption, warped the public message.
"Having an organisation dealing with inquiries into probity, when in fact it's a corruption body, worries me, because the assumption is [it's] always dealing with corruption," he says.
Ruddock travelled to Hong Kong to understand how its ICAC, established in 1974, operated. He describes the city-state's watchdog as a "pretty tough operator", but said it reduces the chance of innuendo scuppering careers.
"If there were allegations against people, they would investigate. When they had established that there was a case to answer, and that they would be able to pursue, that's [when] they would deal with it," he says.
"But they did not deal with the inquiries [by] publicly canvassing all the issues that might be raised at first instance in the media until they had done their investigations."
A. J. Brown from Griffith University's Centre for Governance and Public Policy argues support for that model shows a lack of understanding, particularly from critics concerned about reputational damage.
He says Hong Kong established its corruption watchdog in an environment of endemic petty crime, and part of its public messaging campaign was carrying out arrests in a "pretty dramatic fashion".
"If the Hong Kong commission felt it needed to act ... their traditional way of acting would have been to go and arrest [Berejiklian], and drag her in for an interrogation in the police cells," he says.
"They go in with people with guns, they bring the suspects into the cells and they interrogate them. Then they decide afterwards whether they're going to charge anybody.
"I don't think anybody thinks that would have been an appropriate or satisfactory way to proceed."
Brown, also a board member of Transparency International, accepts the inevitable media firestorm of a public hearing requires any such agency to be "extra respectful" of the impacts going public can have on a politician.
The NSW ICAC now requires at least two of its three commissioners to sign off on a public hearing, which were once the standard.
"But on the other hand, there's a really huge cost to it being discovered down the track that allegations against the most senior officials were handled quietly out of deference to their job, when the average Australian would rightly say they deserved to know about it," he says.
Brown agrees with Charles's criticisms of the federal government's proposal, saying Porter's claim it would have greater powers than a royal commission was "just legally and factually incorrect".
But he is upbeat the deficiencies can be "easily fixed", pointing to state models and the Commonwealth's own plan for law enforcement. He describes extending those powers across the Commonwealth as a "no-brainer".
"The ultimate test is what is going to attract and retain public confidence. Any hint that politicians are dishing up a sub-standard model to protect themselves from scrutiny simply won't wash with most Australians, whether quiet or non-quiet."
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