Premier ‘shocked and distressed’ by MP sex case
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has denied any knowledge of Gareth Ward's alleged sexual violence-related offences before it was revealed on Thursday.
At a press conference on Friday morning, Ms Berejiklian said she only learned of the allegation involving the Families Minister when the story broke on Sky News.
"I think all of us were incredibly shocked and distressed," Ms Berejiklian said.
"What transpired yesterday afternoon was extremely concerning and distressing.
"Mr Ward has done the right thing in stepping aside from his ministry and obviously the Liberal party room," she said.
"As I understand it, he has not been contacted by police and the extent of any allegations are unknown."
She said she spoke to Mr Ward after the report and he had denied any wrongdoing.
"That is a matter that will unfold in the coming days. I don't want to question what the motive is. What we know is that there is a police investigation, police know how to handle these matters and I don't want to interfere in those processes," she said.
ROCKED BY ALLEGATIONS
Mr Ward outed himself as the subject of the allegations on Thursday, strongly denying any wrongdoing, but volunteering to step aside from his ministerial role and the party room.
Ms Berejiklian's status in minority government is now cemented a week out from a crucial by-election.
Mr Ward, who as Families Minister was responsible for 17,000 of the state's most vulnerable children, said he would stand aside from the ministry and move to the crossbench "until this matter is resolved".
In a statement last night, Mr Ward said he learned of the investigation from a journalist and had "not been contacted by police in relation to any allegations".
"I deny any wrongdoing," he said.
However, he said it was "appropriate" to "stand aside" from his ministerial portfolios and move to the crossbench.
It came after NSW Police confirmed the sex crimes squad had established a strike force "to investigate allegations of sexual violence-related offences against a 39-year-old man".
"The incidents were reported to have occurred from 2013," a police statement said.
The Daily Telegraph understands the allegations relate to activity in a hotel room in 2013.
The Daily Telegraph is not suggesting the allegations are true, only that police are investigating.
The alleged incident happened before Mr Ward was families minister and the complainant is an adult.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian issued a statement saying she supported Mr Ward's decision to step aside and sit on the crossbench.
"I was made aware through media reports today that an MP is under investigation by police," she said.
"I have subsequently received advice from Minister Gareth Ward of his decision to step aside as minister and sit on the crossbench while there is speculation about his future.
"I support his decision.
"The Attorney-General will act in Mr Ward's portfolio responsibilities."
The Kiama MP has courted controversy in the past. In 2017 he was caught up in a massage scandal in New York, when two men attempted to blackmail him demanding money.
Mr Ward denied ordering a "special massage" at the time.
Last year, he was caught naked and disoriented outside his Sydney apartment and was twice escorted home by police.
Mr Ward blamed that incident on a general anaesthetic administered for a medical procedure. He was also accused in parliament of "bullying, betrayal and backstabbing" by then-Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis. Mr Ward labelled the allegation as an "outrageous use of parliamentary privilege".
Mr Ward identified himself as the government MP the centre of the police investigation after pressure from Deputy Premier John Barilaro.
Mr Barilaro emphasised that he booted former Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen as a Parliamentary Secretary 2.5 hours after an allegation of rape against Mr Johnsen was raised in parliament.
Mr Johnsen identified himself as the MP being referred to in the accusations made in parliament, while denying the allegation. Mr Johnsen has not been charged.
Mr Barilaro said the "same standards" should apply in this case.
Originally published as Premier 'shocked and distressed' by MP sex case