She carefully guidedthrough the darkest days of the pandemic.
But at a time Gladys Berejiklian should be enjoying the freedoms she worked so hard to deliver, she instead finds her reputation under the microscope in the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
And the gloves are off.
The ICAC has been attempting to chip away, day by day, at her reputation, but has yet to deliver a ‘smoking gun’ that will justify the biggest political shock of 2021 – Ms Berejiklian’s resignation as premier of Australia’s most populous state.
Commission counsel Scott Robertson SC, unlike some of his ICAC predecessors, speaks softly. But he carries a big stick – his words are specific, pointed and laser-like in their focus.
And that focus is all on Ms Berejiklian.
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian is being investigated by the Independent Committee Against Corruption in Sydney
The ICAC is investigating if she was ‘liable to allow or encourage the occurrence of corrupt conduct’ by former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, with whom she was in a ‘close personal relationship’ between 2015 and 2018.
It’s also looking into whether she ‘exercised her official functions dishonestly or partially’ by not reporting any reasonable suspicions about Mr Maguire to the ICAC.
Finding out who knew what and when they knew it has been front and centre in the first week of ICAC’s hearings. There is at least another week to go, and possibly more, because some witnesses’ testimony took longer than anticipated.
Former premier Mike Baird has already given evidence, as has NSW deputy leader of the Liberal Party, Stuart Ayres and a number of senior public servants, while reams of emails, documents and memos have been entered into evidence – including one from senior adviser, Nigel Blunden who authored the now infamous ‘WTF’ memo.
All of the first week’s proceedings were, and most of this week’s will be, meticulous scene setting before the big event – Ms Berejiklian’s appearance before the commission on Thursday and Friday.
Bit by bit, Mr Robertson’s questions and the witnesses’ answers have been an attempt to peel away layers of Teflon that perhaps previously surrounded Ms Berejiklian.
It has at times been excruciating, not least for the former premier, who is again seeing her private and public life scrutinised in minute detail.
ICAC is investigating whether Ms Berejiklian
1. Engaged in conduct between 2012 and 2018 that was ‘liable to allow or encourage the occurrence of corrupt conduct’ by former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, with whom she was in a close personal relationship between 2015 and 2018
2. Exercised her official functions dishonestly or partially by refusing to exercise her duty to report any reasonable suspicions about Mr Maguire to the ICAC
3. Exercised any of her official functions partially in connection with two multimillion-dollar grants in Mr Maguire’s electorate, to the Australian Clay Target Association Inc and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music.
Most galling of all for the former premier, is that none of this was necessary.
If she had declared there was a potential conflict of interest in her relationship with Mr Maguire, she could have recused herself from funding meetings concerning projects of interest to him.
Why she did not do so is likely to haunt her.
After all, she had previously declared two of her cousins worked for the NSW public service and even disclosed meeting someone at a function.
More to the point, declaring a potential conflict of interest was something the then state premier Mike Baird expected and called for at every cabinet meeting, as ICAC heard this week.
Australians not familiar with the events leading up to the ICAC hearings may have been shocked by the evidence they heard this week.
But for those who closely follow NSW politics, the only surprise is that anyone is surprised.
On Monday, October 12, 2020, Ms Berejiklian told an ICAC inquiry into former Liberal MP for Wagga Wagga Daryl Maguire that she had been in a secret ‘close personal relationship’ with him for years.
This was shocking; a genuine bombshell revelation. It seemed that no one beyond Gladys and Daryl knew about the clandestine affair.
Well, no one but the ICAC investigators, who were tapping Mr Maguire’s phone calls.
One of those recordings entered into evidence on the same day Ms Berejiklian admitted her relationship with Mr Maguire featured the pair discussing a business deal.
‘I don’t need to know about that bit,’ the then premier of NSW said to her then partner.
Most reports that evening were variations on ‘the political future of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian hangs in the balance’. From political pundits to the women and men looking at their phones on a bus or train, many may have wondered whether she would survive the revelations.
But they didn’t reckon with the premier’s steely resolve to cling to power.
She immediately confessed all to the media, doing interviews that centred on the narrative that she was a good woman who’d been dragged into a awkward situation by a bad boyfriend.
The general public sympathised with her and thought she was just unlucky in love. What woman hadn’t been in the same boat themselves, or at least knew someone who had? And what kind of man would you be if you didn’t wish her all the best after she admitted what she said was a mistake?
But it wouldn’t have been enough if it wasn’t for a five letter word that has dominated everyone’s lives for almost two years. Covid.
ICAC witness list
Monday 25 – Peter Minucos, former public servant
John Barilaro, former deputy premier of NSW
Tuesday 26 – Neil Harley, former chief of staff to Gladys Berejiklian
Brad Burden, project director at Department of Defence
Sarah Cruickshank, deputy secretary at Department of Premier and Cabinet
Wednesday 27 – Daryl Maguire, former Liberal MP
Thursday 28 – Gladys Berejiklian, former premier of NSW
Friday 29 – Gladys Berejiklian
There’s no doubt Ms Berejiklian was a trusted, safe pair of hands in a time of crisis. You don’t change jockeys half-way through a race and you don’t change premiers when the state, and the world, is facing its first pandemic in a hundred years.
She toughed it out, ignored calls for her head from the Labor Opposition, and continued to do a superb job running the state.
Her popularity went up, not down. The public was behind her.
As time went on and it was revealed she had a new boyfriend, accomplished barrister Arthur Moses, Ms Berejiklian may even have allowed herself to think the worst for her was over, that ICAC had moved on.
But it had not. It was still investigating, and its focus had shifted from Mr Maguire to Ms Berejiklian.
Her days as premier were numbered; she just didn’t know it yet.
She announced on October 1 that she was resigning as NSW premier because she was being investigated by ICAC.
She had known for at least two weeks that was the case, as ICAC had already interviewed her.
She said it ‘could not happen at a worse time’.
‘Resigning at this time is against every instinct in my being and something which I do not want to do. I love my job, and serving the community, but I have been given no option following the (ICAC) statement issued.’
Three weeks later, on October 18, ICAC began its public hearings in Sydney. It soon emerged that it had been holding private hearings for months.
One of those private hearings was with Ms Berejiklian.
In an excruciating 22 second clip played entered into evidence at ICAC she was asked if she had suspicions that her former boyfriend, Mr Maguire may have been involved in corrupt behaviour.
‘I was in shock, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t have enough detail. I hadn’t read what was happening. I can’t remember what I thought at that time,’ she said.
Mr Robertson said ‘I’m not asking what you knew, I’m asking whether at the time you asked for Mr Maguire’s resignation you suspected that he may have been engaged in corrupt conduct?’
‘I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t know. I wasn’t, I wasn’t sure,’ Ms Berejiklian replied in the recording of an interview from September 18.
That term Mr Robertson used – suspected – is important. The ICAC Act holds that leaders must report ‘suspicion’ of possible corrupt behaviour straight away.
On Tuesday, the now infamous ‘WTF’ memo was presented at ICAC.
On December 12, 2016, Nigel Blunden sent a memo sent to his boss, the then premier Mike Baird, sarcastically referring to the proposed ‘Maguire international shooting centre of excellence.’
The explosive memo that has rocked the ICAC inquiry into former premier Gladys Berejiklian
‘As Joel Goodson (the character Tom Cruise played in the 1983 film Risky Business) would say, sometimes you have to say WTF,’ Mr Blunden said.
In the recommendation section of his memo, Mr Blunden wrote ‘Oppose. Gladys and (Stuart) Ayres want it. No doubt they’ve done a sweetheart deal with Daryl, but this goes against all of the principles of sound economic management.’
On Friday, the NSW Trade and Industry Minister Stuart Ayres was grilled by Mr Robertson about the ‘WTF’ memo, which mentioned him. He replied that he didn’t ‘recall having any interactions with (Ms Berejiklian)’, on the issue.
Sophie Callan, who is representing Ms Berejiklian at the ICAC, asked Mr Ayres if the statement about a ‘sweetheart deal’ was speculative.
‘Fantasy would be a good word,’ Mr Ayres replied.
The memo was written two days before government’s expenditure review committee – which was headed by Ms Berejiklian – considered the proposal and ultimately gave the association $5.5 million.
But this paled in comparison to what came next – her political ally and close friend Mike Baird’s appearance.
He said the first he heard of Ms Berejiklian and Mr Maguire’s relationship was ‘when it was revealed here (at ICAC) about a year ago,’ he said, adding that he was ‘incredulous’ when he heard it.
‘Certainly I think (the relationship) should have been disclosed … to myself as the premier’ and that it was a ‘potential conflict of interest,’ he said.
Mr Baird also said that Mr Maguire was ‘at times aggressive and at times abusive to members of staff and public servants’.
Mike Baird (pictured right) and Gladys Berejiklian (left) were very close political allies and friends
As the evidence mounted in ICAC, unequivocal support for Ms Berejiklian came from an unlikely source – former Labor powerbroker Graham Richardson.
Speaking on Sydney’s 2GB radio station, the man who was once known as the ‘‘, said he and Ms Berejiklian ‘have never been close’ but the idea that she is corrupt is ‘absurd’.
Former Labor powerbroker Graham Richardson (pictured) has defended Gladys Berejiklian
‘All of us need to stand up and say that this ICAC thing has got out of hand. If she is corrupt then I don’t understand the meaning of the word,’ he said.
There is much more evidence to come next week at ICAC, with the prize witnesses being Mr Maguire on Wednesday, followed by Ms Berejiklian on Thursday and Friday.
If there are as many revelations as there have been in the first week – and there almost certainly will be – it will be another fascinating week in NSW politics.
Ms Berejiklian has repeatedly and strenuously denied all wrongdoing.
Gladys Berejiklian was all smiles this week, but that may not last long
Assisting counsel Scott Robertson arrives at the Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing in Sydney
The Australian Clay Target Association is part of an ICAC inquiry into former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian
The revelation of former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian’s (pictured left) secret relationship with Daryl Maguire (right) left another former premier, Mike Baird ‘incredulous’
Gladys Berejiklian (pictured right) is under investigation by ICAC for her conduct while NSW premier in relation to her former boyfriend, ex-MP Daryl Maguire (pictured left)
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