Berejiklian denies holding suspicions former boyfriend was allegedly corrupt

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Berejiklian denies holding suspicions former boyfriend was allegedly corrupt

By Lucy Cormack

Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian told a secret ICAC examination she was in shock and “didn’t know what to think” when allegations of corrupt conduct were first levelled at her former boyfriend Daryl Maguire in 2018.

A video extract of the private examination on September 18 was played to the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Monday as it began the first public hearing of a two-week corruption inquiry into Ms Berejiklian.

The corruption watchdog is examining whether she breached the public trust or encouraged corrupt conduct during her five-year secret relationship with the disgraced former member for Wagga Wagga.

It will focus on the conduct of Ms Berejiklian and Mr Maguire in relation to $35 million in grants issued to the Australian Clay Target Association and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Mr Maguire’s electorate while they were in a relationship and Ms Berejiklian was treasurer.

In his opening remarks on Monday, counsel assisting the commission Scott Robertson said the inquiry would investigate whether Ms Berejiklian exhibited the highest standards of probity that she set for herself and her ministers.

“We also expect the evidence to demonstrate that Ms Berejiklian made or participated in the making of decisions ... that advanced the building projects advocated for by Mr Maguire, but without disclosing to anyone within government that she was in a close personal relationship with Mr Maguire at the time,” he said.

Mr Robertson said the commission had no record of Ms Berejiklian reporting any suspicion that Mr Maguire may have been engaged in improper conduct, even after he gave evidence at an unrelated ICAC inquiry in 2018.

In the video clip of Ms Berejiklian’s private examination with the commission last month, Mr Robertson is heard asking the then-premier if at that time in 2018, she had any suspicions about Mr Maguire.

“I was in shock. I didn’t know what to think ... I hadn’t read what was happening. I can’t remember what I thought at that time,” she said.

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“I didn’t know, I couldn’t make any assumption at that stage. He was professing his innocence and saying it was a misunderstanding.

“I also knew that, given the dramatic way in which the information had been revealed and what it could mean, I wasn’t sure. But under the circumstances, given he was a parliamentary secretary, I thought it appropriate to ask him to stand aside until the matters were investigated.”

A frustrated Mr Robertson repeated the question another five times, asking not whether she knew about corrupt conduct but if she had suspicions.

“No,” Ms Berejiklian said.

The corruption inquiry follows four weeks of public hearings last year, which revealed the secret relationship amid allegations Mr Maguire allegedly used his position in Parliament to further his business dealings.

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The commission is investigating if Ms Berejiklian breached public trust in circumstances where she was in a position of conflict between her public duties and her private interest in connection with the grants.

The confirmation of the inquiry into Ms Berejiklian’s dealings prompted her immediate resignation as the state’s 45th premier, as well as her exit from State Parliament altogether.

Mr Robertson on Monday said evidence over the course of the inquiry would demonstrate that public officials were influenced in the steps that they took over projects for which Mr Maguire “vociferously advocated”.

”A number of public officials would have acted differently, had they known about Ms Berejiklian’s close personal relationship with Mr Maguire,” Mr Robertson said.

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Acknowledging a person’s right to privacy in the relationships they hold, Mr Robertson argued there were circumstances when that entitlement “must be subordinated to the public duty”.

“Put another way, public duties come first,” he said.

The commission will hear allegations that Ms Berejiklian sought to limit the information that she had about Mr Maguire’s activities, including by telling Mr Maguire, “I don’t need to know about that.”

It will probe whether Ms Berejiklian “apparent inaction” allowed or encouraged Mr Maguire to engage in corrupt conduct.

Bureaucrat Michael Toohey was the first witness on Monday. He is a director of the NSW Office of Sport and was previously in the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

The inquiry before ICAC Assistant Commissioner Ruth McColl, SC, continues.

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