Maguire instructed Berejiklian to ‘get a private phone’ after being called before Icac

Daryl Maguire also told then premier to download Chinese messaging app WeChat because it ‘leaves no trace’

Icac has heard Daryl Maguire told then premier Gladys Berejiklian to get a “private phone” and use the Chinese instant messaging app WeChat in the days after he was first summonsed to appear before the New South Wales anti-corruption watchdog because, he told her “they can read texts”.

But Berejiklian denied that the request made her suspect Maguire may have been involved in any corrupt conduct, telling the Independent Commission Against Corruption that it was “normal human nature” not to want “your private conversations being listened to”.

On the final day of Icac’s public hearings into her conduct, Berejiklian was grilled by counsel assisting the commission, Scott Robertson, on her actions in the days after Maguire first revealed to her that the watchdog had called him to appear as a witness in a separate investigation.

Icac previously heard that on 5 July 2018 Maguire told Berejiklian he had been summonsed to appear before Icac during a 52-minute conversation.

During the conversation, played before Icac on Friday, Berejiklian asked repeated questions about the nature of Maguire’s involvement in the probe, and described some developers involved in that separate investigation as “dodgy”.

When Maguire raised the prospect that their phone calls might be tapped, she asked: “is that going to be a problem?”

A key plank of Icac’s investigation is whether Berejiklian breached the state’s Icac Act by failing to report conduct by Maguire she had reason to suspect on “reasonable grounds” may have been corrupt.

She has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and on Friday told Icac the phone call did not raise suspicions because “he told me he’d done nothing wrong and I believed him”.

On Monday, Robertson took Berejiklian to the days between the 5 July phone call and Maguire’s appearance before Icac eight days later.

He revealed that four days later, on 9 July, Maguire sent a text to Berejiklian instructing her to download the Chinese messaging app WeChat, telling her: “you need to get a private phone”.

“They can read texts but not the little green man, leaves no trace,” he wrote, in an apparent reference to the green WeChat icon.

In another message, Maguire told the then premier that he had “got more info and data than them”, using an emoji that Robertson described as a “beaming face with smiling eyes”.

Berejiklian again denied that the text messages raised concerns with her, saying it was common for MPs to have “two phones” and that she believed Maguire was concerned about “privacy”. She said she had not acted on his suggestion to get a private phone.

Questioned on whether she thought it was “curious” that in the days after telling her he had been summonsed to appear before Icac, Maguire wanted her to get a private phone, Berejiklian said that was “certainly not my recollection”.

“I wouldn’t have taken it as any more than privacy issues,” she told Robertson.

“I was very confident that he didn’t do anything wrong. And I was certainly confident that I hadn’t done anything wrong.”

After Maguire appeared before Icac on 13 July 2018, he was forced to move to the crossbench, eventually resigning after the watchdog revealed he had discussed the possibility of earning commissions on the sale of development sites which he wanted to help broker. Icac made no corruption findings in relation to Maguire but recommended he face charges for allegedly giving false evidence.

Following his evidence, Berejiklian released a statement saying the MP had “let down” his constituents and urging him to consider stepping down from the parliament. She told Icac that she was “mortified” after he gave evidence, saying the “shock of what happened made me question everything” including whether Maguire might have lied to her.

But under questioning from Robertson, Berejiklian again denied his evidence meant that she suspected he may have engaged in corrupt conduct, saying only that there was a “cloud” around him and that she did not “join the dots” with information he had previously given her about hoping to make $1.5m from a Badgerys Creek land deal.

“The question I asked myself was did I know anything [and] the answer very strongly in my mind is that I didn’t know anything about what this commission was looking at,” she said.

Pressed on why she did not at least report the 5 July phone call she said: “I had nothing to report. There was nothing that I knew, nothing that I remembered, nothing that I thought was of any relevance.”

Monday marked the final day of Icac’s public hearings into Berejiklian’s conduct, which has been centred on her role in the awarding of two grants which Maguire had lobbied for as an MP: $5.5m for a shooting range and conference centre in 2017, and $30m for a conservatorium of music, both in his seat of Wagga Wagga. ICAC is investigating whether she “breached the public trust” by failing to declare her relationship with Maguire. She has denied any wrongdoing.”

Icac has previously heard evidence Maguire and Berejiklian remained in contact following his resignation in July, including a phone call in which she told him that she would “throw money” at his seat during the by-election prompted by his resignation.

In a series of recordings taken from tapped phone conversations between the couple, Berejiklian told Maguire that funding for one of two grants at the centre of the probe was a “done deal” after he complained about “roadblocks” on his “money projects”.

“I know but you’re still getting everything. We ticked off your conservatorium the other day, that’s a done deal now,” Berejiklian told Maguire about a grant to fund the relocation of the Riverina Conservatorium of Music during a phone call in 2017.

On Monday she conceded that he had encouraged her to support the project, but denied that was the reason for her government’s decision to give $20m to fund the second stage of the project despite some within her office and the public service not supporting it.

Berejiklian told Icac it was a “high-level, strategic” decision to fund the project, based on her belief that it enjoyed a lot of community support.

“It’s not uncommon during by-elections to make announcements that are going to get you wide support,” she said.

“It’s a regular political activity that governments try to win seats, try to keep their seats, as does an opposition. I don’t think it would be a surprise to anybody that we throw money at seats to keep them.”

After the commission had adjourned, commissioner Ruth McColl said lawyers for the parties would present written submissions before the release of her final report into both the conduct of Maguire and Berejiklian. There is no timetable for the release of the report.

Outside the commission Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney that “every decision I took was in the public’s best interest”.

“I stand by that today stronger than ever, and I just want to say to everybody that it’s been my honour and privilege to serve you in my role in public life,” she said.

“I don’t want to say too much more than that at this stage, just to say, obviously, what’s occurred to me is a difficult situation but I know many people do it tough in the community.

“And now I intend to get on with my life and I just, again, want to thank everybody for their support.”


Michael McGowan and Christopher Knaus

The GuardianTramp

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