O’Farrell turfs NSW Finance Minister over conflict of interest

By Paul Hemsley

New South Wales Minister for Finance and Services and the Illawarra, Greg Pearce MLC, has finally been sacked by the state’s Premier Barry O’Farrell following a fresh revelation of a conflict of interest related to his Cabinet position.

In an terse and unambiguously worded a statement issued unexpectedly late on Thursday afternoon, Mr O’Farrell said that Mr Pearce had been immediately removed from his Cabinet seat “following a breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct.”

Mr Pearce’s ejection from the Premier’s inner circle over a governance lapse is an unwanted distraction for the Coalition government which had been preparing to dine out on a slew of findings of corrupt conduct against former Labor Ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian MacDonald by the Independent Commission Against Corruption just a day before.

Mr Pearce’s removal will also act to dilute potentially potent attacks by federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott on the re-election campaign of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd by linking corrupt parts of the powerful NSW Labor machine to the federal branch.

The federal branch of the Labor took direct administrative control of its errant state sibling before the ICAC’s corruption findings were delivered on Wednesday, a move clearly intended to pre-empt and limit damaging fallout ahead further reforms to the party machine.

A spokesperson for the NSW Premier told Government News that Mr O’Farrell said during the conference that Mr Pearce had appointed the University of Sydney’s general counsel, Richard Fisher to the board of Sydney Water, but didn’t declare to the Premier and Cabinet that the appointee was his wife’s boss.

“This afternoon I spoke to Mr Pearce and informed him he would no longer remain on the frontbench,” Mr O’Farrell said.

Mr O’Farrell followed his announcement with the warning that “I mean it when I say I expect the highest standards from members of my government”.

Mr Pearce’s removal from cabinet marks the first ministerial dismissal under the O’Farrell government since it was elected in March 2011.

Throughout the course of this year the former Finance Minister has been the subject of repeated accusations relating to his intemperate behaviour in the Parliamentary chamber and problems with taxpayer funded travel entitlement claims.

Another bad look for the O’Farrell government and Mr Pearce has been the candid and embarrassing public concession that the former Finance Minister’s sacking followed a ‘media enquiry’ – effectively an admission that the Premier had been left in the dark over the controversial board appointment.

Mr O’Farrell wasted no time in announcing Mr Pearce’s successor in the Finance and Services portfolio, which will be filled by Andrew Constance, who is presently the Minister for Ageing and Disability Services.

“This is recognition of his excellent work a Minister for Disability Services and Ageing, including oversight of the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme,” Mr O’Farrell said.

Additionally, Mr O’Farrell said that Liberal MP John Ajaka will fill Mr Constance’s vacancy as Minister for Ageing and Disability Services, praising him for his hard work as Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Roads and “thoroughly deserves his promotion”.

These new Ministers are scheduled to be sworn in at Government House on 2nd August, 2013.

With Julian Bajkowski.

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