Gladys Berejiklian’s performance at Icac has been watched in horror by her federal Liberal colleagues.

Not her lack of curiosity while her lover mapped out his plans for corrupt profit from a land deal; nor the way this fastidious lister of potential conflicts failed to see – or declare – the conflict in front of her, in the wheeler-dealer man she loved; nor even the way she revealed – again – how routinely pork-barrelling is woven into political practice.

The revulsion is that all this is being revealed.

“The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption is an obscenity,” Berejiklian’s fellow north shore Liberal federal MP Jason Falinski told ABC radio. “It is star chamber, kangaroo court, crowd-sourced McCarthyism all rolled into one.”

Falinski claims to support a national integrity commission but sees more value in a “beefed-up” auditor general.

“You will tend to pick up corruption not in intercepted phone calls, but when you see money transactions happening that don’t make sense,” he says.

Never mind that it was intercepts that flushed out Berejiklian’s corrupt former lover Daryl Maguire. The tapes left him no option but to reply with a curt “yes” when counsel assisting the commission Scott Robertson invited him to agree that he’d used his position “to benefit yourself and those close to you”.

In a moment of grim comedy, one chat with Berejiklian captured Maguire railing against Icac. “It’s worse than the Spanish Inquisition,” he moaned. “They could be taping your conversation with me right now and you wouldn’t know.”

The lesson Scott Morrison has taken is that an Icac brings down leaders who are otherwise doing a good enough job.

Berejiklian’s plight has reinforced his distaste for a properly functioning national integrity commission. The model offered up, initially by Christian Porter, is much tougher on corrupt law enforcement officials than politicians. Its design gives the government of the day exclusive control over which MPs, senators and staff might face investigation.

The Centre for Public Integrity calls it “a sham designed to hide corruption”.

“If you no longer care about corruption, then you are corrupt,” says Centre director Geoffrey Watson SC, a former senior counsel with the NSW Icac.

“Trust is the glue,” he says. “If you start losing that, you are taking a step towards losing why we’re bonded together as a community.”

Icac put corrupt former NSW Labor ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald in jail. Labor is still paying the price for failing to face down those sucking at its teat. In Victoria, Labor is yet to get the final bill for the branch-stacking scandal working its way through Ibac.

The Morrison government is trailing a dismal chain of scandals. But no one seems to get called to account. Ministers refuse to be interviewed by the AFP. Even a debate about referring Porter to the privileges committee over the secret sources of his legal funding is voted down by the government numbers.

No wonder cynics stalk the land.

So far there has been no knock-out punch against Berejiklian. It may never come. But Robertson, in his relentless way, is expected to quiz her more persistently next week on how she could have missed the signs her lover was corrupt. She claims she “wasn’t really listening” when he let slip his expected $1.5m payday from a property deal in which he was neither the buyer nor the seller.

The Icac Act requires ministers to report “any matter where there is a reasonable suspicion that corrupt conduct has occurred or may occur”.

Berejiklian’s reputation will rest on whether the commissioner ultimately believes her.

Then there’s the pork barrelling.

“Stop calling it that!” insists Geoffrey Watson. “Start calling it ‘misuse of public money’.”

As premier, Berejiklian passed it off as normal political business.

“It’s not an illegal practice,” she said last November. The Icac tapes show how blithely she overruled bureaucratic processes and even her treasurer and successor, Dom Perrottet.

“He just does what I ask him to,” she said, promising Maguire he would get his $140m … $170m … whatever he wanted. “I’ll fix it.”

Right now there is a mighty battle in NSW over legislation to reform the way developers pay contributions to councils, which in turn provide community infrastructure like parks, pools, community halls and the like.

A Productivity Commission report argued there were efficiencies if that money was instead fed into a centralised state government controlled fund.

It’s a “cash grab”, retorts Sydney’s lord mayor, Clover Moore.

“They intend to possibly pocket $1bn a year – $20bn over 20 years – and that will be at the expense of our communities,” says Blacktown mayor Tony Bleasdale, whose council area is expected to absorb another 250,000 people over the next 15 years.

“I certainly don’t believe in pork barrelling; I don’t think it’s a practice that should be condoned,” says planning minister Rob Stokes, the defeated NSW Liberal leadership contender but seen very much as a future potential leader. His planned state government development fund “certainly won’t be a vehicle to allow for that sort of activity”.

But the trust is gone. The councils are in revolt. The Upper House has stalled the legislation. What might, in perfect hands, be good economic reform, right now has scant prospects for success. Blame that on the casual corruption of our times.

Hugh Riminton

The GuardianTramp

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