Gladys accused of breaching her own ministerial code
The ICAC public hearings of an investigation into the conduct of former NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, began on Monday morning. The counsel assisting ICAC, Scott Robertson, outlined three sets of allegations which would form the basis of the investigation.
The first set of allegations concerned whether Ms Berejiklian’s failure to disclose her relationship with Darryl Maguire, constituted a breach of the ministerial code of conduct that Ms Berejiklian herself introduced in 2017. Section 8 of that code requires a minister responsible for a decision of public administration, to disclose any relationship that could impact directly or indirectly on that decision.
The former premier has already admitted to her relationship with Mr Maguire, so ICAC is now investigating whether that relationship had any influence over decisions to fund the Australian Clay Target Association headquarters and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Wagga.
The second allegation seems somewhat contrived. ICAC appears to be asserting that Ms Berejiklian failed to report a suspicion that Mr Maguire was corrupt when she became aware of that corruption as the result of previous ICAC public hearings. Following those hearings, Ms Berejiklian asked Mr Maguire to stand aside and Scott Robertson asserted that this was evidence of her suspicion which she should have reported to ICAC.
The argument seems to be that Ms Berejiklian should have reported to ICAC her suspicion of things that it already knew and inferences of which she had derived from ICAC hearings.
The third set of allegations is that her conduct in office was conducive of corruption. This is based on the idea that she was privy to conduct by Maguire that was tending towards corruption such as soliciting commissions for land sales where he had lobbied ministers and turned a blind eye to it.
On Monday morning, Scott Robertson played a video of the private interrogation of Ms Berejiklian he conducted in September
"I didn't know, I couldn't make any assumption at that stage," Ms Berejiklian said initially, adding that Mr Maguire had professed his innocence.
Scott Robertson pressed Ms Berejiklian:
"I'm not asking whether you were sure, I'm asking whether at that point in time when you asked Mr Maguire for his resignation, whether you suspected that Mr Maguire had been engaged in corrupt conduct?
"I didn't know," Ms Berejiklian repeated.
Mr Robertson persisted:
"I'm not asking if you knew, I am asking whether at that point in time you suspected he was engaged in corrupt conduct or had been engaged in corrupt conduct?"
Ms Berejiklian replied:
"I didn't know. 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."
When asked again if she suspected at the time that he was involved in corrupt dealings, she eventually replied: “No.”
In his opening address Mr Robertson made it plain that the extent of Ms Berejiklian’s ‘corruption’ was limited to breaches of her own code of conduct.
ICAC’s mandate to investigate breaches of the code derived from amendments to the ICAC act that were made in 2017, when she was the premier.
Ironically these amendments were introduced to soften the powers of ICAC after it had been criticised for over-reach.