A series of Gladys Berejiklian’s closest confidants have given evidence to a corruption inquiry about the moments the then-NSW Premier confessed her secret relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire to them.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing into the former NSW premier heard from Neil Harley that he spoke with Ms Berejiklian after she was summonsed to give evidence at a different ICAC investigation last year.
‘It was a very difficult conversation for both of us,’ he said, adding that the former premier is ‘inherently a very private person’.
‘We didn’t go into detail about when (the relationship with Mr Maguire) … commenced and when it finished,’ he said. ‘We talked in broad terms about the nature of the relationship.’
Another former chief of staff to Ms Berejiklian later told the ICAC that on Friday 13 July 2018 the then premier called her and told her ‘she’d been close in the past with Mr Maguire’.
Sarah Cruickshank said she thought the call was unusual as Mr Berejiklian was on leave at the time.
It was the day it was revealed that Mr Maguire was a person of interest to ICAC.
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian is expected to give evidence to ICAC on Friday
Of the three senior former staffers who gave evidence on Tuesday, Ms Cruikshank was the only one who knew the pair had been in a relationship before October last year.
ICAC counsel Scott Robertson asked if she was ‘quite clear’ in her mind that it was a historical relationship before Ms Berejiklian became premier?
‘Quite clear,’ she replied.
‘My recollection was she was telling me from the point of view that she was concerned as people might have seen her out with Mr Maguire,’ Ms Cruikshank said.
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
‘She said it was before she became premier and she said that a couple of times to me.’
Ms Cruikshank added: ‘I didn’t get the impression it was a full-blown intense relationship.’
ICAC Assistant Commissioner Ruth McColl, SC, who is presiding over the inquiry, asked Ms Cruickshank, to expand on her evidence about when Ms Berejiklian told her she had been in a relationship with Mr Maguire.
Ms Cruickshank agreed she believed Ms Berejiklian was being honest with her when she said in a phone call on July 13, 2018 that she had been in a ‘historical’ relationship or friendship with Mr Maguire but it had ended before she became premier in January 2017.
The ICAC subsequently heard that relationship started in 2015 and in continued until 2018. The pair remained in contact until 2020, the inquiry has heard.
‘She’d lied to you?’ Ms McColl said.
Ms Cruickshank said that was for the inquiry to decide.
She agreed she was ‘surprised’ when ICAC heard the relationship had not ended before Ms Berejiklian became premier.
One of Ms Berejiklian’s lawyers, Sophie Callan, SC, pressed Ms Cruickshank about whether it was simply her ‘impression’ that the relationship was historical, and not something Ms Berejiklian said to her.
Ms Cruickshank denied that was the case. ‘She was categorically clear with me; it was before she was premier,’ she said.
As she thought the relationship had ended some time ago, Ms Cruikshank said she and Ms Berejiklian did not discuss whether it needed to be disclosed given the controversy surrounding Mr Maguire.
Gladys’s confidant and former chief of staff Neil Harley
‘I had no reason to suggest that she needed to do declarations,’ she said.
Earlier, Mr Harley told the commission he subsequently discovered the relationship had ‘continued on for a lot longer than I had anticipated’ and ‘it was more recent’ than he thought.
He said if he had previously known about the relationship, he and others ‘might have provided advice to her about how that situation could appropriately be managed’.
The ICAC also heard that in an email from August 20, 2018, Mr Harley said Ms Berejiklian wanted to ‘push’ a plan to award millions in funding for a recital hall in the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Wagga Wagga.
Mr Maguire had quit politics the previous month after giving evidence at an earlier ICAC inquiry, resulting in a by-election.
The commission has heard the recital hall was one of the projects Mr Maguire had pushed hard for in the pursuit of funding.
Mr Harley said in the email to colleagues in Ms Berejiklian’s office that ‘I personally don’t want to push this project but the premier did’.
Mr Maguire’s testimony at a corruption hearing into former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian has been delayed due to ‘investigative reasons’.
The ICAC is, in part, investigating if Ms Berejiklian engaged in conduct ‘liable to allow or encourage the occurrence of corrupt conduct’ by former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, with whom she was in a secret relationship at the time.
Gladys Berejiklian’s former secret boyfriend Daryl Maguire was called ‘a pain in the arse … (like) a dog with a bone,’ in evidence given by former deputy premier John Barilaro to ICAC on Monday
Sophie Callan, representing Ms Berejiklian said ICAC has taken evidence from ‘seven men’ about whether the former premier was in a position of conflict in light of her relationship with Mr Maguire between 2015 and 2018.
The delayed start on Tuesday may have been due to a change in the witness list timetable. Mr Maguire has been switched from Wednesday to Thursday.
Mr Robertson said: ‘I don’t intend to call Mr Maguire tomorrow’ due to ‘investigative reasons’.
Sarah Cruickshank, a former chief of staff to Gladys Berejiklian, arrives at ICAC on Tuesday
Ms Berejiklian’s testimony was initially set to be heard on Thursday and Friday, but her appearance on Thursday has now been cancelled and she will probably have to return to the ICAC on Monday.
Her former chief of staff, Ms Cruickshank said the relationship between Ms Berejiklian and Mr Maguire was described to her as a historical relationship or friendship before Ms Berejiklian became premier in January 2017, and not one that had continued.
Ms Cruickshank was under the impression that the then premier’s relationship with Mr Maguire was not ongoing, and she believed it had already ended.
Ms Berejiklian told the ICAC last year that the relationship started in 2015 and did not end until 2018.
Ms Cruickshank said staff were told after Mr Maguire’s appearance at the ICAC in 2018 that if they had ‘things to report about Mr Maguire they should’.
Similar to others who have given evidence to the ICAC, she described Mr Maguire’s advocacy style as ‘very strident’.
Earlier on Tuesday, Brad Burden, a former director of strategy to then-premier Ms Berejiklian, was asked if he would have done anything differently about a funding proposal favoured by Mr Maguire if he had known about his relationship with the former premier.
He said the thought ‘advice would have been sought around any potential conflicts of interest and how to manage them’.
Brad Burden (pictured, right with his wife), a former adviser to Gladys Berejiklian, gave evidence by video link to the ICAC
Both Mr Burden and Mr Harley were adamant that Ms Berejiklain always behaved in a ‘principled fashion’ and was a ‘stickler’ for the rules.
She never treated Mr Maguire or his electorate any differently, they agreed under cross examination from Ms Berejiklian’s Ms Callan.
‘Categorically no,’ Mr Harley said.
‘I cannot recall a single occasion when Ms Berejiklian raised with me either Mr Maguire or the Wagga Wagga electorate. Not a single occasion.’
Ms Cruickshank said Ms Berejiklian always played by the book and she ‘never saw anything other than somebody who stuck by the rules’.
‘She is very up front and very much full of integrity,’ Ms Cruickshank said, which was part of the reason why she was ‘surprised’ to be giving evidence at the ICAC.
She said there was never any time that she felt Ms Berejiklian was asking her to do something special for Mr Maguire’s former electorate of Wagga Wagga.
‘A lesser person would have asked me to look at those things,’ Ms Cruickshank said.
ICAC witness list
Wednesday 27 – Gary Barnes, secretary of the Department of Regional NSW
Thursday 28 – Daryl Maguire, former Liberal MP
Friday 29 – Gladys Berejiklian, former premier of NSW
Mr Harley added: ‘I have never, ever, in my time in politics, known a person more fiercely committed to public service, and serving the people of the state than Ms Berejiklian.’
That’s despite Mr Harley – who worked for the premier from 2017 and was her chief of staff from February 2020 until her resignation – admitting he had not supported one of the grants at the focus of the investigation, $20.5 million in funding for the Riverina Conservatorium of Music.
It was ‘a longstanding wishlist item’ for Mr Maguire, but the promise was made during the 2018 Wagga Wagga by-election after his resignation.
‘NSW was deep in drought at this stage, and I felt that providing what was a substantial amount of money to the Conservatory of Music would not be well regarded by the community,’ he Mr Harley told the ICAC.
He said he couldn’t remember how he knew the premier wanted the funding, only that at some point they had ‘the briefest of conversations’ about it.
However, Mr Harley said the project – ultimately ruled out after recent business case assessments – was not without merit.
‘My concern at the time was not about the nature of the project, it was about the nature of the announcement in the context,’ he said.
‘It’s important to note that after the by-election was lost and the new member for Wagga Wagga was elected, he himself made representations and has in fact met with me in my role as chief of staff, advocating for it.’
Gary Barnes, secretary of the Department of Regional NSW, who gave evidence last week, has been recalled for further questions on Wednesday.
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 Callan said she is seeking procedural fairness regarding the ICAC’s investigation into whether or not Ms Berejiklian complied with a legal duty to report suspected corruption to the watchdog.
Section 11 of the ICAC Act states that a NSW government minister and other public officials have a duty to report any matter the person suspects on reasonable grounds concerns or may concern corrupt conduct.
Ms Callan said Ms Berejiklian’s lawyers wrote to the ICAC asking for further information about this but had received a ‘wholly unsatisfactory’ response.
She said Ms Berejiklian was ‘entitled to know what it is that is alleged in respect of section 11’.
In reply, Mr Robertson said ‘these proceedings are not a trial’ and the correspondence contained a ‘fundamental misapprehension’ about ICAC’s role, which is that it was seeking to find the truth and was not a prosecutorial body.
Ms Callan added that the watchdog had received evidence from ‘seven men’ to date about whether Ms Berejiklian was in a position of conflict in light of her secret relationship with Mr Maguire between 2015 and 2018.
She indicated that Ms Berejiklian’s team would argue this evidence could not ‘rationally bear’ on Ms McColl’s assessment as to whether a conflict of interest in fact existed.
Ms McColl did not accept that ICAC needed to change the course its inquiry was taking.
The ICAC inquiry has adjourned until 9.30am on Wednesday when Department of Regional NSW secretary Gary Barnes will return to the witness box.
Ms Berejiklian denies any wrongdoing.
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured left) with Daryl Maguire (right)