Gladys Berejiklian has told an anti-corruption inquiry that “throwing money” at electorates to win votes was not “mutually exclusive” with projects having public benefit and was not unusual for her government.
Berejiklian made the comments after the inquiry played phone conversations from three years ago between her and then-boyfriend Daryl Maguire during which she said she could “overrule” public servants blocking a plan for a conservatorium in Maguire’s former electorate.
The phone call followed Maguire quitting politics in 2018 but the pair remaining in a relationship. Berejiklian told him that she would “throw money” at his electorate of Wagga Wagga as the seat went to a by-election.
But public servants advised Berejiklian that $20 million for a stage two project for the Riverina Conservatorium of Music was “by no means a top-order priority for the community and can be seen as quite a political announcement”.
Shown this briefing at Monday’s hearing, Berejiklian responded: “That’s from public servants, they are not people who are experts in winning by-elections or, with due respect, campaigns”.
“I was asked what I thought, and I thought it was a worthy project that the community supported. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have committed to it,” she said. “I think all children and all people should have access to arts and culture in regional NSW.”
She later qualified that politicians did not work “in a vacuum” and announcements followed advice that projects were feasible but most by-elections came down to what announcements parties made.
“I would have described it as an announcement which was good for the community insofar as providing a facility but also politically it curried favour with the community,” she said.
Asked whether she was more interested in funding projects for political gain than public benefit, Berejiklian said: “I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive”.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone in and around government to know that we threw money at seats in order to keep them,” she said.
The comments came as the inquiry heard a second day of evidence from Berejiklian about her relationship with Maguire. The inquiry is considering if the relationship could have been a conflict of interest that led to Berejiklian breaching public trust.
Berejiklian, who resigned as premier due to the inquiry, told reporters after Monday’s hearing that every decision she had taken in public life “was in the public’s best interests”.
“Obviously what’s occurred to me is a difficult situation but I know many people do it tough in the community,” she said.
“And now I intend to get on with my life.
“I have had to fulfil my obligations to the integrity agency and I do so respectfully.
“It’s their job to look at these matters but as far as I am concerned I’ve always put the public first.”