Thursday, June 15, 2023

Berejiklian to know her ICAC fate soon. What happened and what’s next?


Berejiklian to know her ICAC fate soon. What happened and what’s next?

Tom RabeWA political correspondent

More than 18 months after Gladys Berejiklian quit as NSW premier amid an investigation into her years-long, secret relationship with a disgraced Liberal MP, the state’s corruption watchdog is expected to hand down its long-anticipated report into her conduct this month.

The most high-profile NSW political corruption investigation in close to a decade uncovered extraordinary details of Ms Berejiklian’s private life at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In months of public hearings that produced 516 exhibits, and almost 1000 pages of submissions, the lengths her former boyfriend, Daryl Maguire – a state Liberal MP for 19 years – went to in order to exploit his position in NSW Parliament in return for cash was also laid bare.

This is what you need to know about the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s Operation Keppell, how it led to a premier’s political downfall, and what could happen next.

The investigation into Berejiklian

Having made the surprising revelation in 2020 that she had been in a years-long “close personal relationship” with Mr Maguire, Ms Berejiklian then became one of the key subjects of the inquiry in late 2021, prompting her immediate resignation as premier.

The ICAC set out to probe whether Ms Berejiklian encouraged corrupt conduct, engaged in dishonest exercise in any of her official functions or breached public trust in failing to disclose her relationship with the disgraced former MP. Ms Berejiklian has always insisted she acted appropriately, and with integrity.


Former premier Gladys Berejiklian arrives at the ICAC in October 2021. Renee Nowytarger

The investigation focused on a $5.5 million state government grant that was awarded to a clay target-shooting facility in Mr Maguire’s electorate of Wagga Wagga in 2017. That grant was approved despite the NSW bureaucrats warning it went against “all the principles of sound economic management”.

A proposed $20 million state government grant to a music conservatory in Wagga Wagga was also investigated.

Ms Berejiklian told the inquiry she did not believe the five-year, secret relationship was of “sufficient standard or sufficient significance” to disclose it. She fiercely denied that the relationship influenced how she exercised her public duties.

“What I felt for him was completely separate to what I did in terms of executing my responsibilities and I stand by that ever so strongly,” she said in 2021.

The former premier said she had ended the relationship with Mr Maguire several months before she first appeared as a witness at the ICAC in 2020.

The investigation into Maguire

The ICAC was first tasked with investigating whether Mr Maguire engaged in conduct that involved the breach of public trust by using his position as a government MP to “improperly gain benefit” for himself.

The ICAC heard Mr Maguire was running a cash-for-visa scheme out of his parliamentary office, as well as acting as a conduit between developers and government for commissions. He was also alleged to have destroyed a phone and iPad by running over them with a tractor ahead of the inquiry.

Former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire leaving the ICAC building in 2020. James Brickwood

Mr Maguire’s escapades included a bid to broker a $330 million sale of land owned by racing heir Louise Raedler Waterhouse to a Chinese developer. The ICAC heard he was hoping to get a financial cut from the prospective deal, leading him to try to lobby a government minister to move a key road, and rezone the land.

Focus on that potential land deal produced a key moment in the public inquiry, when phone taps revealed Mr Maguire referenced the matter to Ms Berejiklian, who responded “I don’t need to know that bit”.

Mr Maguire was originally ensnared by ICAC in a separate, 2018 investigation into a southern Sydney council when he was caught in a secret recording trying to facilitate a major deal involving a Chinese developer.

That sparked a new investigation into Mr Maguire’s dealings at NSW Parliament, and inadvertently uncovered secret relationship between the regional MP and Ms Berejiklian via phone taps.

Mr Maguire said his relationship with Ms Berejiklian began in 2013 and became a “close relationship” by 2014. Ms Berejiklian said the relationship started in 2015.

Why the wait?

Having kicked off in September 2020, the ICAC will have taken almost three years to hand down a report on Operation Keppel.

The protracted investigation has prompted criticism from politicians and the legal fraternity, with former NSW Supreme Court judge Anthony Whealy KC earlier this year questioning the delays, saying it was a “black mark” against the organisation.

Then-prime minister Scott Morrison also likened the ICAC to a “kangaroo court,” which prompted a strong rebuttal from one of the watchdog’s commissioners, who said those criticising the body were “buffoons”.

In a statement released in January this year, two months out from the NSW election, the ICAC said commissioner Ruth McColl SC was working through “complex matters of law”. The 516 exhibits took up more than 10,000 pages, the watchdog said.

“It is necessary that the issues relevant to the investigation are addressed carefully,” the ICAC said.

What’s next?

The ICAC report can make findings and recommendations, and refer matters to other agencies. That includes recommending the state’s Director of Public Prosecutions consider prosecuting individuals for specific offences.

Now a senior executive at Optus, Ms Berejiklian’s business career could rest on the findings contained in the looming report.