Berejiklian determined to tough out secret relationship scandal

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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Photo: Facebook.

Berejiklian’s explosive appearance on Monday at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption saw her personal life embarrassingly exposed, writes political columnist MICHELLE GRATTAN.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has admitted having a secret intimate relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire, which she only ended recently, despite his being forced to quit state parliament in 2018.

Berejiklian’s explosive appearance on Monday at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption saw her personal life embarrassingly exposed, her political reputation thrown under a cloud, and her future put on the line.

Michelle Grattan

ICAC, which is investigating whether Maguire sought to monetise his position as an MP between 2012 and 2018, heard damaging tapped phones conversations between him and Berejiklian in which he spoke extensively of his lobbying on behalf of developers. He also talked about his concerns over his huge debts, which he said amounted to $1.5 million.

Maguire, who was a parliamentary secretary and member for Wagga Wagga, was forced to quit in 2018 after an earlier ICAC inquiry, which heard recordings of him seeking payment to help broker a deal with a Chinese property developer. This prompted a byelection that the Berejiklian government lost to an independent.

The premier’s colleagues and observers of NSW politics are gobsmacked at the revelation of Berejiklian’s “close personal relationship” with Maguire. There had been no whisper until her disclosure of it on Monday morning.

The relationship began in 2015 and lasted until after she gave evidence privately to ICAC in August.

After her Monday evidence, running for several hours, Berejiklian told a news conference: “I stuffed up in my personal life”. But she said she wouldn’t consider resigning from her position because she had done nothing wrong.

She said she had trusted Maguire, whom she had known for 15 years, but she had not told her family or friends of their relationship because it didn’t have “sufficient status”.

Berejiklian said she had sacked Maguire from the Liberal party and engaged others to press him to leave parliament. But she hadn’t broken with him earlier because he was “in a very dark place”. “I didn’t feel that I could stop being his friend during that time, rightly or wrongly, on compassionate grounds.”

She told reporters she always applied the “highest level of integrity” in doing her public job.

The phone taps indicated Maguire was considering whether to resign at the 2019 election if he was in a financial position to do so. Berejiklian admitted to the hearing she had thought if that happened, they could be in a position to make their relationship public.

In one of their phone conversations, Berejiklian said to Maguire: “You will always be my numero uno.” She told the hearing this showed “in my personal life I placed importance on how I felt about him”.

Berejiklian repeatedly stressed to the hearing she had taken no interest in Maguire’s financial affairs or his business activities, although he constantly referred to them in the phone conversations.

She said he was always talking about deals, but they then fell through. She always thought Maguire had made the appropriate disclosures.

On one occasion, she flagged to him that her chief of staff planned to call him to tell him a minister visiting China would raise a business matter Maguire was involved in.

In some calls she sounded anxious to distance herself from the details.

In one phone conversation, Maguire referred to “my little friend” and said, “you know my little friend?” Berejiklian replied, “Not really. I don’t need to know.”

In relation to a deal involving land owned by Louise Waterhouse, from the racing family, near Badgerys Creek, Maguire asked if she had received an email from Waterhouse. When she said no, he said, “You will, she’ll send you an email. She’s really pissed off now, you know, about the airport. They’re all passing the buck.”

In September 2017 he told her, “It looks like we finally got the Badgerys Creek stuff done … I’ll make enough money to pay off my debts, which will be good.” He added, “Can you believe it, in one sale?”

In another conversation, Berejiklian said, “I don’t need to know about that bit.”

The hearing went into closed session twice to listen to tapes which were considered too private to be played publicly.

Berejiklian stressed to ICAC she would never compromise her public position: “I would never turn a blind eye to any responsibility that I had to any wrongdoing that I saw.”

She emphasised she was an independent woman with her own finances. “Anybody else’s finances would be completely immaterial to me,” she said.

Her colleagues are standing by her, at least at the moment. The NSW Opposition said she should resign. Maguire gives evidence on Wednesday and Thursday.

Head of Daniel Andrews’ department resigns

The secretary of the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, Chris Eccles, has resigned, in the latest dramatic development in the hotel quarantine affair.

But his resignation has not clarified the central mystery of who decided private security should be used, a fateful move in what ended up as the Victorian second wave of COVID.

Eccles quit after his phone records showed he called then police commissioner Graham Ashton as the quarantine arrangements were being set up.

Ashton had told the board of inquiry investigating the quarantine debacle he had received information that private security would be used but could not remember who told him – although he had sent a text to Eccles asking about arrangements. Eccles told the inquiry he did not recall phoning Ashton, but he didn’t rule out doing so.

The inquiry at the weekend called for the phone records.

On Monday Eccles said in a statement the records showed he had called Ashton at 1.17 pm on March 27 and spoke with him for just over two minutes.

But Eccles stuck to his evidence to the inquiry about not passing on a decision about private security guards.

“I am absolutely certain I did not convey to Mr Ashton any decision regarding the use of private security as I was unaware any such decision had been made, and I most certainly had not made such a decision myself.

“The totality of my evidence to the Board was that I may have contacted Mr Ashton following Mr Ashton’s 1.16 pm text message.”

Eccles said to continue in his position would be “a significant distraction … as we enter a critical phase of easing COVID-19 restrictions”.

Michelle Grattan is a professorial fellow at the University of Canberra. This article was originally published on The Conversation

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Michelle Grattan
Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra, Michelle Grattan is one of Australia's most respected and awarded political journalists.

4 COMMENTS

  1. It was pleasing to see both Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten standing up for Ms Berejiklian and her right to privacy. I agree with them. They have both risen in my estimation. I believe she is currently the best head of any Government in Australia.

  2. Her private life is her private life – it is irrelevant to the real issue here, which was she lied under oath in front of ICAC on multiple occasions. That alone is the reason she is no longer fit for office.

  3. I feel for her being put in it by someone else’s mistakes (notice no one goes after Julia Gillard when the same thing happened to her), but the real test will be to see if she broke the ministerial code of conduct which she is bound by.

    Fair enough if the they need to investigate but it’s a private matter really and should be dealt with discretion

    • The private matter of her relationships – yes. The lying to ICAC is most certainly not a private matter, and should be dealt with by her losing her position.

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