Prime Minister Scott Morrison now suspects former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian may not run for the federal seat of Warringah, but he would still welcome her putting her hand up.
Federal Liberal frontbenchers have been throwing their weight behind a possible return to politics for Ms Berejiklian, who resigned after it emerged she was under investigation by the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption.
The former coalition premier is being investigated over whether she failed to disclose a relationship with Wagga Wagga Liberal MP Daryl Maguire when awarding grants to his electorate and has also been accused of turning a blind eye to Mr Maguire’s corrupt conduct.
Mr Morrison said Ms Berejiklian would make a strong contribution to his federal team if she decided to run despite the ICAC investigation hanging over her head – an investigation he has continued to dismiss as a kangaroo court.
“That’s a decision for Gladys, ultimately, and she may choose not to go ahead here, I suspect,” he told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.
“That’s a matter for her and I respect her choice.”
Mr Morrison acknowledged Ms Berejiklian had gone through a difficult time due to the anti-corruption inquiry, which grilled her on details of her private life.
“I know it’s been a very difficult time for her in recent times,” he said.
“She has suffered terribly in terms of things that have been aired publicly and I think that was just awful to watch.”
Labor MPs have criticised the prime minister for dismissing the NSW investigation and for casting doubt over the ICAC’s independence.
Warringah MP Zali Steggall said integrity was a major issue in her electorate and chastised government ministers for being out of touch with the public by continuing to undermine the ICAC.
The independent also said she remained confident of her position in the Sydney seat, claiming any Liberal candidate would be ‘puppeteered’ by Barnaby Joyce on climate policy, which is a key issue in Warringah.