Australia

Gladys Berejiklian ‘distressed’ by sexual assault allegations against NSW MP Gareth Ward

The NSW premier says she’s concerned and distressed by sexual assault allegations levelled against sidelined frontbencher Gareth Ward, as her government faces the prospect of sinking further into minority.

Mr Ward denies any wrongdoing and is yet to be contacted by police over the allegations, which he says he learned about in media reports.

The Kiama MP on Thursday night stepped aside as families, communities and disability services minister after identifying himself as the politician under investigation for “sexual violence-related offences” dating back eight years.

Police are investigating the allegations, which reportedly took place from 2013.

Mr Ward said in a statement on Thursday evening that he would also recuse himself from the Liberal Party room and move to the crossbench.

The incident could push Gladys Berejiklian’s government up to three seats in minority, depending upon the outcome of the 22 May Upper Hunter by-election.

Former Upper Hunter Nationals MP Michael Johnsen resigned in March over allegations he raped a sex worker in 2019, which he denies.

Scandal-plagued Drummoyne MP John Sidoti also remains on the crossbench.

Ms Berejiklian on Friday told reporters that Mr Ward had expressed his shock and said he knew little of the allegations levelled against him.

But she supported his decision to move to the crossbench for now.

“He was very categorical in saying police hadn’t contacted him,” she said.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said it was “Groundhog Day” for the coalition, coming two months after Mr Johnsen’s resignation.

Ms Berejiklian said she didn’t know if the allegations levelled against Mr Ward would have a significant bearing on the Upper Hunter by-election.

Gareth Ward speaks during question time in the Legislative Assembly of NSW parliament in June 2020.

AAP

“I always believe that when you put forward good policy and do the right thing by the community, you get the results you need,” she told reporters on Friday morning.

“None of us will tolerate behaviour that is regarded completely unacceptable.

“I’ll have more to say once all of us know the facts. The standards are pretty clear and if you breach those standards, you’ll be treated accordingly.”

The allegations against Mr Ward come as sexual harassment and bullying policies for NSW government ministers’ offices face an overhaul, with a “brutal” review deeming current rules ineffective and unclear.

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