Personal tragedy, public dissembling: Gladys Berejiklian’s days seem numbered | Australia news

History is littered with women brought undone by the actions of men, women who have seen their lives upended when their partners behaved like scoundrels.

But Gladys Berejiklian?

Will she become the third premier of New South Wales whose career is ended by events before the Independent Commission Against Corruption?

It seems likely.

The revelations of Berejiklian’s “close personal relationship” with the former MP for Wagga Daryl Maguire, who is before the commission over allegations of corrupt conduct, have come as a bombshell.

Even more astounding is that the relationship, begun in 2015, continued until August this year. This was after Berejiklian sacked Maguire from the Liberal party, forced him to sit on the crossbench and prevailed on others to get him to resign as the member for Wagga Wagga.

The allegations against Maguire are in the public domain and in substantial detail.

In her press conference on Monday after giving evidence to the commission, Berejiklian said she continued the friendship because Maguire was in “a very dark place” and he had lost everything. She is appealing to the desire of all of us to support friends.

But she is the premier, and she sets the standards of her government.

Among the conduct under investigation is whether Maguire ran a business, G8way, out of his parliamentary office, offered visa services to Chinese business partners and was involved in paid lobbying for various landholders, including one at Badgerys Creek, the site of Sydney’s second airport.

Over several hours on Wednesday Berejiklian, a notoriously private person, had her personal life laid bare, as the counsel assisting, Scott Robertson, played telephone intercepts of her personal calls with Maguire during 2017 and 2018.

Berejiklian is single. Maguire is now separated. This is not a question of morality. It is one of judgment: whether Berejiklian deliberately limited what she knew of Maguire’s business dealings in order to keep the relationship going – for years.

On the tapes, Maguire can be heard talking about his business plans and concerns about his debt levels – he had a $670,000 mortgage on his house and $1.55m in debt associated with his business.

Daryl Maguire

The former NSW MP Daryl Maguire. Photograph: Erik Anderson/AAP

On the rambling calls where Maguire outlines his indebtedness and how he plans to tackle his financial position, Berejiklian at times sounds distracted, as though she is multi-tasking.

“Perhaps I was bored and busy and wanted to move on,” she told the commission.

“He was always talking about deals, and they always fell through, they always seemed quite fanciful to me,” Berejiklian said.

“It was known among colleagues that he always talked big. But they never seemed to come to fruition.”

Resolving these debts apparently weighed heavily with Maguire. But they were also relevant, it seems, to Berejiklian’s future. Getting rid of the debt, at least in Maguire’s mind, appears to have been crucial to whether he could leave parliament at the 2019 election. That in turn seems likely to have been necessary, in Berejiklian’s mind, if they were to go public with their relationship.

She referred to him as her “numero uno” on one phone call. But she acknowledged that now she does not know what his intentions were. On a human level, it’s truly heartbreaking.

“I stuffed up,” she said at her press conference, saying she had never told even her family about Maguire because the relationship, for all its length, was not “of sufficient status”.

But this is not the issue.

Gladys Berejiklian tells Icac of ‘close personal relationship’ with former MP Daryl Maguire – video

On the phone taps Berejiklian listened to Maguire talk about G8way, about business deals in China, about his business partners and his lobbying for Louise Waterhouse, who had land at Badgerys Creek. Yet she made no inquiries.

She did not check the pecuniary interest register to ensure Maguire was complying with his disclosure of his business interests.

In one tapped phone call from September 2017, when Maguire talks about a deal he is doing with “William” [believed to be property investment broker and business partner, William Luong], she replies: “ I don’t need to know about that bit.”

Robertson asked: “Weren’t you seeking to limit the amount of information you had about this deal so that you don’t have to do anything?”

Berejiklian: “If there was anything, I would have disclosed it, or reported it.

“I deny the proposition that I turned a blind eye.”

But that wasn’t quite what counsel assisting was asking. He was asking whether she deliberately tried to keep herself in the dark about Maguire.

Maguire’s lobbying on behalf of Waterhouse is the most dangerous, because the state government has many levers over development around the airport site.

Berejiklian said she did not read an email about Badgerys Creek, which was sent to her personal account and not logged. She says she did nothing to assist Waterhouse’s desire for a road to be built to her property.

The premier said she was never concerned that Maguire might be trying to use the influence of his office in order to promote his own business activities or those of others.

“Can I say, I would never, ever, never, ever turn a blind eye from any responsibility I had to disclose any wrongdoing that I saw, or any activity that I thought was not in keeping with what a member of parliament should be doing and I want to make that very clear.”

But we have now heard that the premier conducts “bump-in” meetings – unscheduled meetings usually organised ad hoc by backbenchers – and that Maguire took advantage of this to bring in property developers with whom he was doing business. These meetings are not in the official ministerial diaries, which must be disclosed every three months.

Ambitious figures in the Liberal party have been circling Berejiklian almost since the day she won them victory in 2019. But she has been viewed as unassailable because of her integrity and work ethic. Until now.

The frontrunner for her job, the treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, is wounded by the scandal of iCare and the fact that he had a political operative from the US on his staff, paid for through iCare’s budget.

There are others who also covet the job: the planning minister, Rob Stokes, is perhaps the leading moderate, but the transport minister, Andrew Constance, and the environment minister, Matt Kean, are in the mix as well.

The issue for Berejiklian is that the public will forever wonder, as they do with any woman who has a relationship with an alleged rogue: how could she not have known? What does it say about your judgment?

This truly is a personal tragedy for a high-achieving premier. She says she is staying. But her greatest assets – a straightforwardness and meticulous attention to detail – are now in doubt and she will come under searing and justified attack from the opposition.

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