The NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, is facing calls to resign over her failure to act on what she knew about the property deals her close personal friend of five years, the disgraced former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire, was doing while a backbencher.
Despite apologising to her colleagues in the party room this morning, Berejiklian is facing continued questions about what she knew about Maguire’s deals and when.
“At all times I’ve acted in the best interests of this state. Had I known any wrongdoing was done at any stage I would have not have hesitated to act and I have acted very swiftly when I needed to and I am the first to put up my hand and admit but I haven’t done anything wrong,” she said.
“At all times I have maintained a distinction between my personal and private life and the public office I hold,” she said.
Phone intercepts played to the Independent Commission against Corruption on Monday recorded Maguire talking to Berejiklian about deals he was trying to clinch including securing a road to a property at Badgery’s Creek for landowner Louise Waterhouse, which would have netted him a success fee.
He was also recorded telling Berejiklian about a deal he was trying to do with a Chinese backed company UWE and how it would improve his finances. At one point Berejiklian interrupted him saying: “You don’t need to tell me that bit.”
Maguire is facing allegations of corrupt conduct over attempts he made to influence public servants to further the property interests of his clients.
Berejiklian is not accused of any wrongdoing, but has been forced to admit to a secret relationship with Maguire, which continued even after she was forced to sack him in 2018, following the Icac revelations.
She has repeatedly said Maguire did not not receive any favourable treatment by her, and that public servants rebuffed his approaches.
The NSW opposition plans to move a no confidence motion.
“This isn’t about her personal relationship, Opposition leader, Jodi McKay said.
“She is entitled to a personal relationship, and I will defend that. But this is an issue of what Gladys Berejiklian didn’t do. She knew that Daryl Maguire was involved in the deals that are now before the Independent Commission Against Corruption,” McKay said
But the premier has received a strong support from the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, a Liberal party colleague.
“Gladys is a tremendous Premier and has my absolute support, and I thought she showed a lot of courage yesterday, but I also thought she showed a lot of humility,” he said.
“We are all human, and particularly in those areas of our lives, and Gladys is an extremely private person and a person a momentous integrity, a great friend, and I know she has been getting many messages of support from her friends and colleagues, including me,” he said.
Berejiklian’s ministers have rallied behind her, pointing to her leadership during the Covid-19 crisis and her work ethic, while other politicians have also supported her.
Appearing on the ABC on Tuesday, former Prime MInister, Malcolm Turnbull said Berejiklian should “certainly not” resign in the wake of Monday’s appearance before the Independent Commission Against Corruption, saying the premier “fell in love with the wrong guy”.
“Gladys is one of the most diligent leaders in Australia today; she is diligent, she is honest,” the former prime minister said.
“She’s not Robinson Crusoe – she’s human. She fell in love with the wrong guy.
“Gladys is quite unlike most politicians: she’s not duplicitous, she’s not two-faced, she’s not a schemer. And I guess with Maguire she was probably too loyal, too long.”
Turnbull’s support for Berejiklian was echoed on Tuesday morning among some of her important Liberal moderate allies in the NSW government, including the environment and energy minister, Matt Kean, and the transport minister, Andrew Constance.
Kean told Nine’s Today show the premier had “done absolutely nothing wrong”.
“The fact remains that Daryl Maguire got no benefit out of that relationship,” he said.
“Gladys Berejiklian is a stickler for the rules and followed proper process the entire time. So the Icac has every right to look into these very serious issues but there is no wrongdoing on behalf of Gladys Berejiklian.”
Constance, considered a possible leadership rival, refused to consider questions about whether he would seek the job if Berejiklian resigned, echoing the claim the premier had “done nothing wrong”.
“That’s ridiculous because she is going nowhere, I will tell you now,” he said. “It was the worst day in her life and she is profoundly private and ... I think most people will judge it on that.”
During a four-hour grilling before the state’s anti corruption watchdog on Monday Berejiklian admitted she had been in “a close personal relationship” with Maguire when he was forced to resign from parliament amid a separate corruption scandal in 2018.
A series of intercepted phone calls played during her appearance before the commission revealed that Maguire had told the premier that he potentially stood to make hundreds of thousands of dollars if land owned by the racing heir Louise Waterhouse near the site of the new western Sydney airport was rezoned.
The payment would have been enough to pay off “about half” of his $1.5m personal debt, Maguire told Berejiklian in one phone call.
She responded: “I don’t need to know about that bit.”
The Liberal party has sought to frame the issue as a personal one. Speaking to the media after her appearance before Icac on Monday, a defiant Berejiklian said while she had “stuffed up” in her personal life she had not let that impact her role in government.
“Hands down, this has been one of the most difficult days of my life,” an emotional Berejiklian said yesterday. “I’m an extremely private person and, without question, I stuffed up in my personal life.”
“If I had done something wrong I would be the first one to do that [resign]. If I had done something wrong I would be the first one to consider my position. But I haven’t.”
But the NSW opposition leader, Jodi McKay, who plans to move a no-confidence motion against the premier in parliament, labelled Berejiklian’s appearance before the Icac as “evasive” and said the government was trying to focus on the premier’s personal life to avoid harder questions about her knowledge of Maguire’s activities.
Icac is investigating allegations Maguire misused his position as an MP and parliamentary secretary to improperly gain a benefit for himself or for G8way International, a company he “effectively controlled”.
It has previously heard that Maguire sought payments to help broker deals for Chinese property developers, and helped “grease the wheels” of a deal to sell Waterhouse’s land near the proposed airport in 2017 and 2018.
“What I saw yesterday was a premier who is focusing on a bad decision she made in a relationship,” McKay said on Tuesday.
“And I think that is unfortunate. But we all make bad decisions in relationships – I have made bad decisions in relationships … that doesn’t mean that that stops you from reporting where necessary and taking action, and she didn’t do that.”
But the NSW Labor party is not receiving support from its federal colleagues. Appearing on the ABC’s Q+A program on Monday night the federal Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, refused to call for Berejiklian’s resignation, saying the premier “shouldn’t be judged for the fact that she has a relationship with someone”.
“It would have been a very tough day for Gladys today, and I felt for her about those personal issues coming out in the way they did,” Albanese said.
“That is her business, as far as I’m concerned – consenting adults – that is no one’s business except for hers.”
Albanese deflected questions about whether Berejiklian should stand down, saying he hadn’t “looked at all of the details”.
“I know Gladys, I wish her well but I do think there are real issues around her government and what she knew,” he said.
Similarly, the former opposition leader and shadow minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Bill Shorten, described the saga as “pretty human”.
“It’s all pretty human, isn’t it?” Shorten said. “I don’t hold that against Gladys. I mean, she’s a very dignified person – I met with her on plenty occasions – and as a result, I think she would have been embarrassed by listening to the phone tapes of her conversation.
“She’s a smart lady who I think has been punching below her weight with perhaps a much more average guy. I don’t know: I have sympathy for Gladys at the human level.”