Words matter, as Gladys Berejiklian showed in her assured handling of the Covid-19 crisis as premier of NSW. She said what she meant and meant what she said.
But words seemed briefly to fail the ousted leader in an excruciating 22 second clip played at an Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing into her.
‘I was in shock, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t have enough detail. I hadn’t read what was happening. I can’t remember what I thought at that time,’ Ms Berejiklian said when asked if she had suspicions that her former boyfriend, ex-Liberal MP Daryl Maguire may have been involved in corrupt behaviour.
Counsel for ICAC Scott Robertson SC said ‘I’m not asking what you knew, I’m asking whether at the time you asked for Mr Maguire’s resignation you suspected that he may have been engaged in corrupt conduct?’
‘I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t know. I wasn’t, I wasn’t sure,’ Ms Berejiklian replied in the recording of an interview from September 18.
That word Mr Robertson used – suspected – is important.
The ICAC Act holds that leaders must report ‘suspicion’ of possible corrupt behaviour straight away.
Gladys Berejiklian pauses for thought at Northbridge Plaza in Sydney on Monday morning
‘I’m not asking whether you knew or whether you were sure,’ Mr Robertson said, adding that he just wanted to know if she suspected any corrupt conduct.
After saying several times that she couldn’t be sure, Ms Berejiklian eventually said the answer was no.
But the testimony seen yesterday showed Ms Berejiklian saying she had been in shock, didn’t know, wasn’t sure and couldn’t remember what she thought of Mr Maguire’s behaviour before eventually saying she had not suspected corruption in 2018.
For the first time, a state that was shocked by Ms Berejiklian’s sudden resignation on October 1, finally got a glimpse into why ICAC was investigating corruption and dishonesty allegations made against the former premier.
Today, ICAC is hearing evidence from former public servant, Paul Doorn, who is now the head of Rugby NSW.
He was formerly the executive director of sport and recreation in the office of sport within the department of Premier and Cabinet, and then the executive director of the NSW government’s sport infrastructure group, during the time under investigation.
In early proceedings on Tuesday, ICAC heard that in 2012 Mr Maguire wrote to the then Sport Minister, Graham Annesley, about funding for a new shooting centre.
Mr Doorn said it was ‘not just a shooting range but a broader facility’ that was being proposed.
Head of Rugby NSW Paul Doorn arrives at an Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing in Sydney, Tuesday, October 19. ICAC’s Operation Keppel is in its first week of hearings into whether former premier Gladys Berejiklian breached public trust
As there was already an Olympic standard shooting facility in Greater Sydney that was used for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, this meant the funding request was to support a second international-standard shooting facility in the state.
Asked whether he gave advice about whether this was a good use of funds, Mr Doorn said he advised that it would be competing with the existing facility but ‘we would always explore it’.
An email from the time, which was entered as evidence, said ‘A low priority will be given to the project’.
Mr Robertson said ‘the likelihood is that it won’t be funded at all’ if it is of ‘a low priority’.
Mr Doorn said ‘I don’t believe so,’ when asked by Mr Robertson if the letter led to funding in 2012 or 2013.
ICAC is investigating the conduct of Ms Berejiklian and her ex-boyfriend the former Liberal MP for Wagga Wagga, Mr Maguire, concerning $35 million in state government grants issued to the Australian Clay Target Association and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Mr Maguire’s electorate when Ms Berejiklian was NSW Treasurer.
Ms Berejiklian has repeatedly, strenuously denied any wrongdoing and said she always acted in the best interests of the people of NSW.
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian is seen at Northbridge Plaza on Monday morning as ICAC began public hearings into her conduct while premier
Michael Toohey, a director in the Office of Sport, was the first witness called by ICAC when it opened the public stage of its hearings yesterday.
He said the Australian Clay Target Association proposal ‘was a very risky idea’ and of Ms Berejiklian’s secret relationship with Mr Maguire he said: ‘I can’t see how that’s anything but a conflict of interest.’
It was an explosive allegation by a senior bureaucrat and a little bit of the Teflon surrounding St Gladys’ reputation was chipped away.
Mr Robertson also said that though Ms Berejiklian had previously disclosed potential conflicts of interest, she ‘never gave a disclosure under the NSW ministerial code of conduct in relation to Mr Maguire’.
Ms Berejiklian was spotted sporting a power suit, new hair cut and confident smile at her lawyer’s office on Monday morning, shortly before the ICAC proceedings began just a few kilometres away.
But behind the smile, she had to be concerned with what testimony the commission was about to hear. If the first day of evidence was difficult for her, there may be worse to come.
Mike Baird, who was the NSW premier when Ms Berejiklian was the state treasurer, is on the witness list for later this week, as is John Barilaro, who served as her deputy premier until she resigned.
Ms Berejiklian is not expected to appear until next week.
ICAC is investigating whether Ms Berejiklian
1. Engaged in conduct between 2012 and 2018 that was ‘liable to allow or encourage the occurrence of corrupt conduct’ by former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, with whom she was in a close personal relationship between 2015 and 2018
2. Exercised her official functions dishonestly or partially by refusing to exercise her duty to report any reasonable suspicions about Mr Maguire to the ICAC
3. Exercised any of her official functions partially in connection with two multimillion-dollar grants in Mr Maguire’s electorate, to the Australian Clay Target Association Inc and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music.
Mr Robertson described the grants to the Australian Clay Target Association Inc and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music as ‘case studies’.
He said private ICAC hearings established that public officials involved with these grants would say they had been ‘influenced in the steps they took’ based on what they thought to be ‘Ms Berejiklian’s support for or interest in those projects’.
ICAC heard evidence that Ms Berejiklian, who was then the NSW treasurer, approved a funding submission for Wagga Wagga’s Australian Clay Target Association to be put before the state government’s expenditure review committee in December 2016.
He told the inquiry he was asked to put together in just one day a draft expenditure review committee (ERC) submission for funding for the Australian Clay Target Association Inc.
Mr Toohey said it was ‘extremely unusual’ to be asked to put together an ERC submission on such short notice. He did not recall this happening ever before.
‘I thought it was a very risky idea,’ he said. Mr Toohey told ICAC he never got a satisfactory answer as to why a funding submission for a multimillion-dollar government grant was such a matter of urgency in late 2016.
Michael Toohey, director at the Office of Sport, arrives at the Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing in Sydney on Monday, October 18
‘What was the rush? Why couldn’t it wait?’ Mr Toohey said he asked at the time.
Mr Robertson asked Mr Toohey if he ‘Would you have done anything differently, would it have affected what you did [if you knew about the relationship between Ms Berejiklian and Mr Maguire]?’
‘Absolutely. I would have expressed my concerns … to say I thought this was problematic.’
The Australian Clay Target Association grant is one of the ‘case studies’ at heart of the ICAC investigation.
The association was located in Mr Maguire’s former electorate of Wagga Wagga.
Mr Toohey said there was an ‘idea being thrown around’ that the association’s facilities were going to be relevant to getting the Invictus Games (an international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women, both serving and veterans) in Sydney.
‘Invictus Games doesn’t have shooting events. The claim that this was somehow related to the bid was imaginative,’ Mr Toohey said.
‘There was no way of knowing that the costs were right … It was quite deficient on what I thought were material matters. We didn’t even know how the project was going to be managed.’
He said it was not clear if it was a ‘feasible project’ and that he recalled that the analysis was predicated on an assumption of increased tourism to the region.
Mr Toohey said an analysis focused on the benefit to Wagga Wagga of funding the construction of a new clubhouse for the Australian Clay Target Association in the city is an ‘incomplete analysis’.
‘It has to benefit the state,’ he said.
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian is seen in a smart power suit at Northbridge Plaza on Monday morning as an ICAC hearing into her behaviour starts its public hearings
Mr Robertson said in his opening address that under the ministerial code of conduct NSW ministers must exhibit, and be seen to exhibit, the highest standards of probity.
He told ICAC that there are some circumstances where a person’s ‘ordinary entitlement to privacy must be subordinated to their public duty. Put another way, public duties come first’.
‘While a person holds office of public trust, for example, like the office of premier of that of treasurer, it may be necessary for that person to disclose that she or he is in a personal relationship with a particular person if the existence of that relationship is something that could objectively have the potential to influence the performance of the officeholder’s public duties.’
Former NSW premier Mike Baird (pictured right) is set to appear before the ICAC inquiry into another former NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian (pictured left)
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured right) is seen arriving at her family home with her partner, Arthur Moses SC (left)
Dominic Perrottet, who replaced Ms Berejiklian as premier two weeks ago, says he spoke with her over the weekend and ‘she’s doing well’.
He would not comment, however, on the ICAC proceedings, saying he wasn’t going to ‘provide a running commentary’.
‘My ministerial team are focused on the people of the state, the integrity agency will do their work and we’ll go from there,’ he said.
‘There are always public hearings when it comes to the Independent Commission Against Corruption, they’ve got a job to do, they should do the job.
‘If there’s anything the NSW government needs to act on following these inquiries, then we will, but obviously we’ll just wait.
‘I’m not going to provide a running commentary in relation to these public inquiries,’ said Mr Perrottet.
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian seems to have a lot on her mind as she walks in Northbridge on Sydney’s north shore
Gladys Berejiklian has her mask at the ready on a walk on Monday morning in north Sydney
ICAC is investigating whether Ms Berejiklian encouraged or allowed corrupt conduct by her secret ex-boyfriend and disgraced former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire between 2012 and 2018.
Her mother Arsha told Daily Mail Australia last Wednesday that while her daughter was initially ‘heartbroken’ at having to step down while NSW was emerging from the Covid pandemic, she had come to accept her decision, and was ‘smiling and happy’.
Gladys Berejiklian (pictured left) with her arm around her father Krikor (right)
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian (front) and her former boyfriend Daryl Maguire
Gladys Berejiklian (pictured right) is under investigation by ICAC for her conduct while NSW premier in relation to her former boyfriend, ex-MP Daryl Maguire (pictured left)
Ms Berejiklian spent Saturday in the comfort of her family home surrounded by close relatives. The ex-NSW premier, 51, looked happy and relaxed as she arrived bearing gifts at the red brick North Ryde home of her elderly Armenian parents, Arsha and Krikor in Sydney’s north.
She was accompanied by her high-profile lawyer boyfriend Arthur Moses SC, both casually dressed in dark jeans, black boots and sunglasses.
Gladys Berejiklian (pictured right), 51, looked happy and relaxed arriving at her family home with boyfriend Arthur Moses (left) on Saturday
A determined looking Gladys Berejiklian is seen in Sydney on Monday morning as an ICAC hearing begins into her conduct while NSW premier
Mr Maguire publicly announced $5.5 million in funding for the Australian Clay Target Association on January 2, 2017, but did not point out that the funding was conditional.
Mr Robertson said ‘You let out a bit of a sigh’ as he showed Mr Toohey Mr Maguire’s media release.
‘I was just surprised that this announcement had been made. I thought it was a long way off being guaranteed,’ Mr Toohey said.
He felt Mr Maguire’s media campaign was an attempt to ‘wedge’ public servants to ensure the funding was guaranteed before other steps were followed, including a proper business case being shown.
‘It makes it very difficult for the business case process … I thought it was a premature statement. It makes it very difficult for people to say no.’