The New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian will know well before Christmas the broad direction of the corruption watchdog’s findings from Operation Keppel, which unearthed her “close personal relationship” with its main target – former MP for Wagga Wagga, Daryl Maguire.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (Icac) wrote to Berejiklian and others on Wednesday telling them that counsel assisting, Scott Robertson SC, would provide a draft submission on 7 December setting out the findings he contends should be made on the evidence.
These can include recommendations of a finding of corrupt conduct, recommendations of referral for prosecution, potential breaches of ministerial codes, and reflections on the candour of witnesses.
The affected parties will then have until 1 February to provide submissions in response, before counsel assisting then provides final submissions to the commissioner on 22 February.
But the public is unlikely to know the outcome of the inquiry until well into next year, after the commissioner, Ruth McColl, assesses the submissions and writes her report. She will exercise her own judgment but the submissions of counsel assisting are usually highly influential.
Maguire, who has now left politics, made a number of admissions about taking commissions from property developers during his evidence last week. He also did not disclose his business interests in his pecuniary interest register as required by an MP.
But Berejiklian who had a five-year secret relationship with Maguire, has continued to insist she did nothing wrong, despite Icac playing phone intercepts of Maguire discussing the progress of his deals with property developers with her.
On Wednesday, the Labor opposition continued to hound her over why she did not report Maguire to Icac.
“Your office was instructing all ministerial staff to report any concerns they had about Daryl Maguire at the same time you were hiding what you knew from Icac. Why were even junior political staffers held to a higher stand than you premier?” Labor MP Prue Car asked during question time.
The premier rebuffed the questions as “offensive” and said she had always acted in the interests of NSW.
Meanwhile, the Berejiklian government is facing a new crisis over how it came to award $252m in grants to councils with almost no paperwork prior to the 2019 election.
An order for documents from the upper house has yielded just a handful of emails from the premier’s staff directing nearly a quarter of a billion in grants to councils during early 2019 under the Stronger Communities program.
Most – 95% – went to Coalition electorates. One council, Hornsby Shire, on Sydney’s north shore, was given $90m even though it had not applied.
The new scandal of the Stronger Communities grants program saw the state treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, face questions about the state’s administration of taxpayer funds.
“This government is more than happy to be criticised for investing record amounts across our state … We are very proud of our record,” he said, when asked how the government could make grants of taxpayer money without any documentation.
“There were clear guidelines in place and if there is any evidence that the guidelines weren’t followed, I would be happy to hear it,” he said. But when asked why the guidelines had changed midway through the grants program, he said “this happens all the time”.
Asked whether there was any paperwork, Perrottet said he was “not aware of that” and branded the controversy “a stunt” by Labor.
Perrottet was unable to say who had signed off on the grants.
Meanwhile, a new element has been thrown into the febrile climate of Macquarie Street with the return of the deputy premier, John Barilaro, from three weeks’ mental health leave.
He immediately entered the discussion about the premier by reflecting on his concern for her mental health.
“It’s tough on the premier. I worry about her now, I worry about her mental health and her wellbeing and that’s really my focus,” he said, after assuring the media that he was back on track.
He said the two had been in touch by text frequently during his absence.
Barilaro assured the media he was recovering, though he has left open the question about his long-term future in politics.
“You don’t make these decisions when you’re recovering from a bit of a breakdown ... by March next year, I’ll make a decision about the long-term future of my job, my role as an MP.”
He also acknowledged that he had recently exceeded 13 demerit points on his driver’s licence, evidence of “where my head space was” while on leave.