Gladys Berejiklian warned her secret boyfriend Daryl Maguire she believed some of his associates were “dodgy”, but denied suspecting him of corrupt conduct because he had “assured me that he had done nothing wrong”, a corruption inquiry has heard.
Berejiklian’s appearance at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (Icac) on Friday produced a series of bombshell revelations.
On the first of two days before the commission it was revealed she told her former boyfriend Maguire she had injected more than $100m in funding into the NSW budget after he complained about a lack of hospital funding in his electorate of Wagga Wagga, agreed not to sack a public servant until after a project the MP had lobbied for was completed, and said she did not need to declare the relationship to ministerial colleagues despite describing him as “family” in a text message.
But it was a tapped phone call from the day Maguire first received a summons to appear before Icac in July 2018 that went to the heart of the watchdog’s probe into the former premier’s conduct.
Icac is investigating whether Berejiklian breached her legal duties by failing to report conduct by Maguire she had reason to suspect on “reasonable grounds” may have been corrupt conduct. The former premier has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, including in her appearance on Friday.
The call, from 5 July 2018, revealed that Berejiklian questioned Maguire in detail about his summons before Icac’s separate Operation Dasha inquiry. The inquiry ultimately forced the MPs resignation after it was 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.
During the call, Maguire explained to Berejiklian that he had been called to appear as a witness because of an introduction he had made for the Chinese property developer, Country Garden. While he insisted that he had done nothing wrong, he also told the then-premier that he could be implicated in the investigation.
After first telling Maguire “I don’t want to know any of that stuff”, Berejiklian asked a series of questions about his involvement in the investigation, and told Maguire that she believed the developers involved in the inquiry were “dodgy”.
During the call, in which Maguire railed against the watchdog, calling it “worse than the Spanish fucking inquisition”, he also told Berejiklian: “They could be taping your conversation with me right now, you wouldn’t know”.
She replied: “Is that going to be a problem?”.
But under questioning from counsel assisting the commission, Scott Robertson, the former premier insisted she did not suspect Maguire of any corrupt conduct because, she told the inquiry, she “trusted” the MP.
“He told me he’d done nothing wrong and I believed him,” she said.
“If I had done, I would have reported it.”
The call was one of a series of explosive phone and text exchanges between Maguire and Berejiklian revealed during Friday’s evidence.
In exchange from May 2018, Berejiklian told Maguire she would “fix it” after he complained about a lack of hospital funding in his electorate of Wagga Wagga, then two hours later told him she had instructed the treasurer to put more than $100m in the budget.
In a message sent about 11am on 16 May 2018, Maguire complained that staff in the office of the then-treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, had told him there was “no money for stage 3 Wagga hospital” which, he said, “needs $170m”.
Later that day, about 4.30pm, Maguire again complained about the lack of funding in a tapped phone conversation.
“I said, ‘You better fucking make sure Wagga’s got money otherwise there’s gonna be a riot on your hands,’” Maguire says in the call.
Berejiklian responded: “I’ll deal with it. I’ll fix it.”
On a second call, about two hours later, Berejiklian told Maguire: “I just spoke to Dom and I said put the 140 [million] in the budget. He goes no worries. He just does what I ask I ask him to.”
When Maguire again complained that he wanted $170m for Wagga hospital, she said: “Whatever it is, 170 I said ... I think it’s around 140, I said just put it in. He’s putting it in whatever it is, OK.”
Counsel assisting Scott Robertson told Icac that Perrottet, now the NSW premier, is not accused of any wrongdoing in the investigation.
The taped call was played after Robertson had grilled Berejiklian on whether Maguire enjoyed preferable treatment or increased access to her, as premier, because of their relationship.
After the exchange was played, Robertson said: “If it was someone else raising these kinds of concerns you wouldn’t have taken those steps.”
Berejiklian denied that, saying she would have dealt with any “irate” colleague in the same way, and she could not recall taking any actions after the 2018 call.
At the centre of Icac’s probe are two grants given to organisations in the seat of Wagga Wagga between 2017 and 2018. On Friday the inquiry heard tapped phone conversations in which both projects were discussed, including a $30m grant for the Riverina Conservatorium of Music.
In one call, from November 2017, Berejiklian agreed that she would not sack a public servant who she “can’t stand” after Maguire told her not to.
“His head will be gone soon,” Berejiklian said on the call.
“Not until he fixes my conservatorium … He’s the only one that’s come to do it,” the Wagga Wagga MP replied.
“Alright good tell him to fix it and then after he fixes it I’m sacking him,” she said.
Berejiklian said the Conservatorium project may have been “one of the reasons” she delayed in sacking the person, but said she never did ultimately sack them and they still work for the public service.
During the examination, Berejiklian was grilled on why she did not declare the relationship to her ministerial colleagues, and insisted that even with hindsight she would not have disclosed it because it was “not of sufficient standing”.
Robertson pressed the former premier on why she did not feel the need to disclose it during decisions about projects Maguire had lobbied for, including the $30m grant, despite having previously declared instances where she had met people at functions or the fact that two cousins worked for a government department.
In my view, [the grant decision] had nothing to do with my personal life because it was on the merits of providing something positive to the community,” she said.
Robertson showed Berejiklian a text message she sent to Maguire on the same day she was involved in a decision made by the government’s powerful expenditure review committee to give an initial $10m to the conservatorium in which she told him that he was “family”.
“How can you possibly say that the relationship was not of sufficient status to consider making a disclosure ... when on the very same day you’re telling Mr Maguire that he’s your family?” he asked.
Berejiklian told him it was a “turn of phrase” and was not meant to be taken literally.
“So when you say ‘you’re my family’ you didn’t mean ‘you’re my family’,” Robertson asked.
“I did not regard it as literal,” she replied.
“I regarded him as part of my love circle - part of the people that I strongly cared for - but I wouldn’t have put him in the same category as my parents or my sisters.”
Despite a series of public servants and former ministerial colleagues telling Icac they would have acted differently had they known about the relationship, Berejiklian said she did not think the relationship had a sufficient level of “commitment” to declare.
“They weren’t in it, so they wouldn’t have known my state of mind,” she said in Sydney.
Berejiklian has denied all wrongdoing and said history will show she acted in the best interests of the people of NSW.