Disgraced former NSW MP Daryl Maguire has admitted running a “cash for visa” scheme and using taxpayer-funded political staff and resources for his personal business ventures, including receiving thousands of dollars in cash at his Parliament House office.
Earlier, Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who this week made the bombshell admission of a secret five-year relationship with Mr Maguire, hit out at what she called “offensive” media questioning and maintained she knew nothing of her boyfriend’s business dealings.
“I have stressed over and over again, I had no knowledge of any wrongdoing,” the under-siege Premier again insisted, as she faced two no-confidence motions in state parliament on Wednesday.
She has survived the motions, but key crossbenchers in the parliament say they will refuse to support government bills unless she steps aside.
A NSW anti-corruption inquiry has been investigating Mr Maguire’s links to a company called G8way International. Mr Maguire, who resigned as member for Wagga Wagga in 2018 after a separate ICAC investigation, spent all of Wednesday giving evidence to the state’s anti-corruption inquiry.
He admitted to essentially acting as a company director while still in state parliament. He also admitted using his parliamentary and electorate staff to help set up meetings for his private business dealings.
G8way and politics intertwined
Mr Maguire said he would receive deliveries “thousands” of dollars in cash from a business associate in his Parliament House office.
“Would you agree that effectively, you turned your office in Parliament House into an office for G8way International?” counsel assisting the ICAC, Scott Robertson, asked.
“Partly,” Mr Maguire said.
Asked if he used parliamentary staff, resources and power “with a view to making money for yourself and your associates”, Mr Maguire said “yes”.
The former MP admitted he knew he should not use his office in this way.
He also admitted to a deal to make him a director of G8way if he left politics. Mr Maguire agreed with Mr Robertson when he suggested the former MP was not listed as a director to “conceal” his involvement.
‘Cash for visas’ scheme
Questions about the intertwining of his parliamentary and business lives centred on a scheme where G8way would link Chinese nationals with jobs at Australian businesses to gain work visas.
Mr Maguire said G8way could get up to $20,000 per “placement”, as a “success fee”.
But under questioning from Mr Robertson, Mr Maguire admitted the arrangement was a “cash for visas” scheme, where it was not clear if there was any obligation for the “employee” to actually work.
That is, the foreign national could get a work visa without working.
In a complicated mechanism, a “worker” would essentially pay their own salary, by providing the company with a large fee upfront. It was returned to them as “wages”. At one point, the scheme saw a business paid $40,000, while Mr Maguire and an associate would share $10,000.
Mr Maguire protested that he “was promised that the rules wouldn’t be broken”, claiming he made it “very clear” that that should not happen.
However, when asked if it was “cash for visas”, he said “it appears that way”.
During questioning, Mr Maguire initially claimed he did not know at the time he was working on it that it was not a legitimate employment scheme. But, pressed further, he admitted he did know that the scheme may be a ‘cash for visas’ scenario.
“An essential element of this scheme … was potentially lying to immigration officials, do you agree?” Mr Robertson asked.
Mr Maguire: “Yes”.
“You agree it was a breach of public trust?” Mr Robertson asked.
Mr Maguire: “Yes”.
Another line of questioning centred on an event, attended by then NSW premier Barry O’Farrell in 2012, with a Chinese delegation interested in building a $400 million development in Wagga Wagga.
An invoice from G8way was sent to the Chinese. Mr Maguire claimed it was for decorations and set-up costs for the event, but it also included a fee for an unspecified “introductory service”.
Asked whether that fee was for introducing the delegation to Mr O’Farrell, Mr Maguire said he never offered nor charged fees for any such service. He also claimed to have no knowledge of the invoice.
Premier slams ‘offensive’ questions
Mr Maguire was not asked on Wednesday about Ms Berejiklian. But outside state parliament, as Mr Maguire was being grilled, the Premier was again protesting her innocence, in a fiery press conference where she warned reporters about their characterisation of the relationship.
“If I had any suspicion that any member of parliament, whether it was him or anybody else was doing the wrong thing, using that office for the wrong purposes, of course I would have reported that,” she said.
“He fooled a lot of people because, clearly, he was conducting activities he shouldn’t have and many people were not aware of.”
Ms Berejiklian told a reporter to “please use your words carefully” when asked about Mr Maguire’s links to China.
“Please be careful with the dots you’re trying to draw, which simply do not exist,” she said.
“I’m happy to answer all questions in relation to the public interest. But my tolerance for answering questions which, frankly, are offensive, is waning.”
In an equally fiery question time in parliament, Ms Berejiklian again protested “there is nothing wrong that I have done, or ever have done, or ever will do”.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Premier survived two no-confidence motions. However, upper house crossbenchers have promised to withhold support for government legislation unless she steps aside.
Leader of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party Robert Borsak, insists Ms Berejiklian should step aside pending the outcome of the ICAC inquiry into Mr Maguire and One Nation’s Mark Latham agrees.
“We’re not prepared to support the government in their legislative agenda while she leads their party and in fact is the premier of NSW,” Mr Borsak told ABC TV.
“We haven’t asked for her to resign. We’ve asked for her to step aside so that this whole process with ICAC can finish and they can issue some judgment on what her relationship with Mr Maguire has been all about,” he said.