Tapped phones, Berejiklian and the disgraced pollie: How ICAC drove the NSW Government into crisis

By Matthew Elmas

Friday October 16, 2020

A former counsel assisting ICAC says the watchdog’s decision to investigate Gladys Berejiklian shows the need to protect integrity in the public sector. 
A former counsel assisting ICAC says the watchdog’s decision to investigate Gladys Berejiklian shows the need to protect integrity in the public sector.  (Image: AAP)

In a week of explosive hearings, NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has driven a political crisis through the highest levels of the state, reigniting debate about integrity in government, and the intersection of public office and personal relationships.

What started on Monday with the revelation NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian maintained a “close personal relationship” with disgraced Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, ended on Friday evening, when the commission published a previously redacted transcript, revealing Maguire agreed their relationship may have begun as early as 2013 — two years earlier than the Premier had previously attested.

The misuse of parliamentary offices, leveraging of public status for financial gain and a plot to defraud immigration officials were just some of the admissions counsel assisting ICAC Scott Robertson drew out of Maguire in three-days of questioning.

Extraordinarily, what were otherwise gob-smacking revelations were met with relative candour, as the final six years of Maguire’s parliamentary career was dissected in a series of one-word affirmatives.

“[Do] you agree that during the period from 2012 to 2018 you sought to monetise your offices as a member of parliament, parliamentary secretary and chair of the New South Wales Parliament Asia Pacific Friendship Group,” Robertson asked.

“Yes,” Maguire replied.

“So one of the things G8Way [a company Maguire effectively ran] was trying to sell was influence and experience that would reach to the highest levels of government?” Robertson asked.

“Yes,” Maguire replied.

Equipped with reams of emails and tapped phone conversations, the evidence sitting behind Robertson’s calm and thorough line of inquiry was, at times, damning.

By early Wednesday afternoon, Maguire had conceded he placed businesses into a “dodgy” visa scheme, and after being shown an emailed postmortem about a client getting cold feet, admitted he was aware the program involved lying to immigration officials.

“You decided to proceed anyway because there was potential money for you in the event you continued to refer businesses into this immigration scheme. Do you agree?” Robertson asked.

“Yes,” Maguire replied.

Gladys’ crisis: Tapped phones, the Premier and a disgraced pollie

Maguire’s concessionary approach contrasted a rancorous public debate outside the inquiry through the week, sparked by evidence the disgraced politician’s exploits were, in some cases, shared with the state’s most senior government official, Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

The Premier kicked off proceedings and media intrigue on Monday, revealing she maintained a “close personal relationship” with Maguire before phone intercepts detailed conversations between the two about his extra-governmental business dealings.

On September 5, 2017, Maguire called Berejiklian, saying he was hopeful a deal involving “Badgreys Creek stuff” would be finalised, allowing him to pay off his debts, ICAC heard.

Maguire admitted this week “Badgreys Creek stuff” referred to an attempt to assist a property developer in selling land near the planned Western Sydney Airport.

On the call, Berejiklian responded: “I can believe it”.

Under questioning. the Premier could not assure the commission she was listening to Maguire, casting doubt over whether Berejiklian registered details which, three years later, are now the subject of a public anti-corruption inquiry.

“I don’t think I would have paid much attention to this, because I would have assumed it’s quite fanciful, in terms of what he was suggesting,” Berejiklian said.

Maguire did not “burden” Berejiklian with details

The phone intercepts quickly formed a political cloud over the Premier, who rejected being a “sounding board for corruption” during Question Time on Thursday, only for Maguire to then detail the extent to which he told Berejiklian about his business dealings on Friday morning.

“She was, at least to some extent, a sounding board a someone with whom you might discuss the kinds of things you were involved in, at least in a general terms, is that right?” Robertson asked.

“Yes,” Maguire replied.

Maguire said while he discussed aspects of his financial situation and business dealings with Berejiklian, he actively sought to avoid “burdening” the Premier with more specific details of his affairs.

Berejiklian has maintained no wrongdoing, but the Premier’s position was complicated on Thursday evening, when, hours after a private session questioning Maguire about their relationship, ICAC mistakenly published the transcripts, which cannot be reproduced for legal reasons.

Ironically, the errant transcripts were less immediately consequential than a dump of exhibits published by ICAC overnight, revealing evidence Berejiklian dined at Maguire’s Wagga Wagga home with his business partner in the cash-for-visas scheme.

ICAC: Hearings underline tension between privacy and public interest

The commission has, invariably, broached Berejiklian’s relationship with Maguire repeatedly, calling attention to the intersection of public office, personal relationships and conflicts of interest.

In justifying taking the commission into private hearings on Thursday, Robertson, perhaps without trying, drew a line under this broader public debate, which has taken shape against what Berejiklian herself described as a firm distinction between personal life and public office.

“Regretfully it’s been necessary for this inquiry to trespass on matters that ordinarily would be entirely private,” Robertson said.

“But as part of this Commission’s responsibility of investigating not  just alleged corrupt conduct, but conduct that is connected with alleged corrupt conduct, it was necessary in my judgement, and as apprehended in the Commission’s judgement generally, to trespass at least in part on matters that would ordinarily be private.

“…that having been said, in my respectful submission, this Commission should not conduct something in the nature of a public trial as to the nature and extent of the relationship between these two individuals.”

On Friday afternoon, as Robertson probed a series of text messages in which Maguire told Berejiklian he expected to receive $5,000 from the sale of a motel, attention again turned to how much the Premier knew about his dealings.

In the exchange, Berejiklian had replied: “Congrats!!! Great News!! Woo hoo”.

Maguire could not recall the text messages, but the exchange took place in 2014, raising questions about when Maguire’s relationship that was “distinct from a friendship” began with Berejiklian.

The Premier has previously said their relationship began around the time of the 2015 state election, but in transcripts published on Friday evening, Maguire agreed he may have been in a close personal relationship with the Premier in 2013, although he later said 2014 was clearer in his mind.

What remains unclear, and will be open for the commission to dechipher, is what Maguire’s stream of admissions this week will mean for the Premier’s future; in other words, what did Berejiklian know, and when?

READ MORE: ICAC: Maguire admits to monetising public office in ‘cash for visas’ scheme

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