In case you missed it last week, counsel assisting the ICAC in its inquiry, Scott Robertson, delivered an opening address on the first day of the public hearings. He gave a more detailed guide to the matters being investigated by the corruption watchdog.
Conflict of interest
Mr Robertson said the watchdog is investigating whether former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian exhibited the “high standards of probity” that she set for herself and her ministers when she failed to disclose her secret relationship with former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire and any conflict of interest it might have presented.
Under the NSW ministerial code of conduct, a minister “must not knowingly conceal a conflict of interest from the Premier”.
The ICAC is investigating events from 2012 to 2018, during which Ms Berejiklian was NSW treasurer (from April 2015) and later premier (from January 2017). The ICAC heard last year that Ms Berejiklian and Mr Maguire were in a relationship between 2015 and 2018.
Duty to report
Under section 11 of the ICAC Act, a NSW minister and other public officials have a duty to report any matter that the person suspects on reasonable grounds concerns or may concern corrupt conduct.
Mr Robertson said the ICAC had no records available to it to show Ms Berejiklian made any report of suspected corrupt conduct involving Mr Maguire to a head of agency or to the corruption watchdog.
Ms Berejiklian forced Mr Maguire to resign as a parliamentary secretary on July 13, 2018, after he gave evidence at a separate corruption inquiry. Days later, on July 21, she announced he would quit State Parliament altogether.
But Ms Berejiklian told a private hearing at the ICAC on September 18 this year that she did not suspect Mr Maguire of corruption when she asked for his resignation in 2018. “I was in shock. I didn’t know what to think…. I hadn’t read what was happening. I can’t remember what I thought at that time,” she said.
Mr Robertson said the watchdog is also investigating whether it should accept that evidence.
‘Allow or encourage’ corrupt conduct
Mr Robertson said the watchdog is also investigating whether Ms Berejiklian engaged in conduct that was “liable to allow or encourage the occurrence of corrupt conduct by Mr Maguire”. The ICAC heard last year that Mr Maguire told Ms Berejiklian in some tapped phone calls about his business dealings, and in one call she said: “I don’t need to know about that bit.”
Mr Robertson said “a question arises as to whether Ms Berejiklian’s apparent inaction in relation to the information provided to her by Mr Maguire was apt to allow or encourage Mr Maguire to engage in corrupt conduct”.
The ICAC is investigating the conduct of Ms Berejiklian and Mr Maguire in relation to $35 million in state government grants or promises made to the Australian Clay Target Association and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in his electorate when Ms Berejiklian was NSW Treasurer in 2016/2017 and 2018. (Note that some funding for a recital hall for the conservatorium was announced by the government in August 2018 but has not been delivered to date).
At the time of the funding promises, the pair were in a secret relationship and Mr Robertson alleges that Mr Maguire “vociferously advocated for government support for those projects within government, including to Ms Berejiklian directly”.
“We expect the evidence to demonstrate that the proposals being investigated in this public inquiry were not subjected to a competitive assessment as to whether those proposals, or either of them, should be preferred to other possible demands on the public purse,” Mr Robertson said.
“And while that does not, without more, indicate corruption, it does raise the possibility that Ms Berejiklian’s conduct had the effect of preferring organisations based in Wagga Wagga to other equally or more deserving
organisations based elsewhere in this state.”
As we will continue to point out throughout this blog, Ms Berejiklian denies all wrongdoing. She had this to say in her resignation speech on October 1:
The issues which [the ICAC] … is investigating are historic matters that have already been the subject of numerous attacks on me by political opponents during the last 12 months.
Many of the matters were the subject of questions I was asked by the Opposition while appearing before an estimates committee hearing earlier this year.
I want to be very clear, in all the decisions I have ever made as a Minister or as Premier for NSW, my first consideration has always been the well-being and welfare of the people of this state.
I state categorically, I have always acted with the highest level of integrity. History will demonstrate that I have always executed my duties with the highest degree of integrity for the benefit of the people of NSW who I have had the privilege to serve.