NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is under pressure to resign after a bombshell ICAC hearing where she revealed a long-term relationship with a fellow politician at the centre of a corruption probe.
The Premier called her relationship with disgraced MP Daryl Maguire a “mistake”, admitting she had “stuffed up in my personal life”. She had earlier revealed that the pair had been in a relationship between 2015 and earlier this year, meaning they had been connected for two years after she sacked him from the party over separate corruption matters.
“I haven’t done anything wrong. If I had done something wrong, I would be the first one to do that. If I had done something wrong, I would be the first one to consider my position. But I haven’t,” Ms Berejiklian said.
State opposition leader Jodi McKay slammed the Premier for “recklessness” and “poor judgement”.
“How on earth did she think it was OK to still be in contact with the disgraced MP and still be in a relationship with him?” the Labor leader said.
At a press conference after her ICAC appearance, Ms Berejiklian shrugged off calls to quit.
“I look forward to maintaining my focus to keep everybody safe, to keep jobs going during a very difficult time for the state,” she said.
“Had I known then what I know now, clearly I would not have made those personal decisions that I did… I feel really, really let down.”
Gladys Berejiklian cannot walk in to the parliament tomorrow as Premier of NSW, given her evidence at ICAC today. She must resign.
— Jodi McKay (@JodiMcKayMP) October 12, 2020
When asked if she had considered resigning, the Premier said she had not.
Despite admitting to a years-long tryst with Mr Maguire, Ms Berejiklian said their relationship did not have an impact on her political decisions, claiming she did not unduly favour him or his political proposals.
“Everybody held their ground and did what was right in the interests of the public. Everybody held their ground, and this person [Mr Maguire] was not able to acquire anything,” she said.
“I want to take this opportunity to wholeheartedly thank all of the public servants, all of my colleagues, who at every opportunity made sure they did the right thing, made sure that this person did not get any personal benefit. And that is what is part of the issue here. He had a go, quite a few many times, but nothing transpired.”
The Premier said she kept the relationship secret, even from family and friends, because she felt “it didn’t have sufficient status for me to share with anybody … I wasn’t sure about its future.” When asked why she didn’t break the relationship off when Mr Maguire was sacked from the party, she said she was worried about his wellbeing.
“When he was in that very dark place, I didn’t feel that I could just stop being his close friend,” she said.
An Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) hearing in Sydney on Monday heard she encouraged Mr Maguire, her covert boyfriend and declared “numero uno”, to quit parliament at the 2019 NSW election so they could make their relationship public.
Ms Berejiklian said the relationship began in 2015 and ended earlier this year.
But she denied deliberately blinding herself to information about Mr Maguire’s financial interests and attempts to clear his $1.5 million debt – now under the ICAC spotlight – in order to maintain plausible deniability on the matter.
The ICAC has accused Mr Maguire, the ex-Wagga Wagga MP, of using his public office and parliamentary resources to improperly gain a benefit for himself or for G8way International – a company he allegedly “effectively controlled”.
Mr Maguire was forced to quit Ms Berejiklian’s government in 2018 after a separate ICAC inquiry heard evidence he sought payments to help broker deals for property developers.
At the time, Ms Berejiklian said she was “pleased and relieved” he resigned.
But on Monday she said she had a “personal attachment” to Mr Maguire and their relationship, which began in 2015, had been kept under wraps for the sake of privacy.
They last spoke on September 13 – less than a month ago – and Ms Berejiklian ended all communication only after agreeing to support the current ICAC inquiry.
Ms Berejiklian admitted to ICAC she spoke with Mr Maguire in 2017 about her desire for the ex-MP to leave parliament so the couple could go public with their relationship.
She believed at the time Mr Maguire had the same desire.
I did consider what my private life might look like, were that to occur,” Ms Berejiklian said.
Despite this professed wish, she repeatedly insisted she had little knowledge of Mr Maguire’s interests and labelled him a “big talker” who came up with “pie in the sky” schemes and “a lot of the time I would have ignored or disregarded what he said as fanciful and … I didn’t care to be involved”.
Premier ‘shocked, disturbed’ by China revelations
Ms Berejiklian said she has been “shocked” and “disturbed” by revelations Mr Maguire was involved in an immigration scheme where Chinese nationals would secure a regional migration visa, but not turn up to work.
“Can I tell you how absolutely shocking and disturbing those revelations are and I can’t tell you what I felt when I learned of those on the public record,” Ms Berejiklian said.
Shocked, disgusted, let down, all of the above.”
Recordings of phone calls between the pair played on Monday, in which Mr Maguire discusses various business deals, appeared to contradict the premier.
She said she presumed Mr Maguire had appropriately disclosed his interests.
“That was his business, I’m an independent woman with my own finances. I would never, ever consider my position in relation to someone else’s in that regard,” Ms Berejiklian said.
Upon questioning from counsel assisting Scott Robertson, Ms Berejiklian denied distancing herself from specific details on Mr Maguire’s affairs in an attempt at self preservation.
This includes Ms Berejiklian’s declaration she “didn’t need to know about that” as Mr Maguire discussed in a recorded phone conversation his financial interests at Badgerys Creek Airport, and a deal which would enable him to repay his debts.
She also repeatedly said she had no interest in Mr Maguire’s debts.
Ms Berejiklian was dragged into the saga last week when ICAC heard Mr Maguire gave Louise Waterhouse, a western Sydney landowner, Ms Berejiklian’s personal email address to help her lobby for rezoning changes that would benefit a parcel of her land.
ICAC heard Mr Maguire passed on the email address and suggested the premier would be able to provide a “tickle from up top”, but Ms Waterhouse said Ms Berejiklian never responded.
Ms Berejiklian confirmed on Monday no action was taken in relation to Ms Waterhouse’s “irregular” email, and it hadn’t been forwarded to another department.
Ms Berejiklian’s ex-chief of staff Sarah Cruikshank last week also declared she ordered Mr Maguire to “cease and desist” as he threatened to fly to China at the same time as an official trade mission over a business deal involving a south NSW dairy.
The inquiry continues.