Gladys Berejiklian sat through hours of intense and personal questions by corruption investigators on Friday – but there was one question in particular that “offended” the former NSW premier.
Ms Berejiklian, who has denied wrongdoing, told the Independent Commission Against Corruption it was offensive to suggest she would have awarded money to her former boyfriend’s electorate in part to make it easier for him to retire.
The corruption watchdog is investigating whether Ms Berejiklian breached the public’s trust in the course of her secret relationship with a colleague.
The ICAC hearing has previously heard Ms Berejiklian and Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire had plans to make their relationship official once Mr Maguire had retired from politics.
Mr Robertson suggested funding projects in Wagga Wagga prior to the 2019 election would have made the Coalition government more popular in the area, thus making it more likely Mr Maguire would be able to retire without risking the seat being lost to another party.
“Was it at least a factor as to why … you considered Mr Maguire’s money projects … to increase the standing of the Coalition in the seat of Wagga Wagga with a view to making it easier for Mr Maguire to be in a position to retire at the next election?” Scott Robertson asked.
Ms Berejiklian pushed back strongly.
“That is absolutely not the case. I reject it outright. And I find it offensive,” she said.
Mr Robertson persisted, asking Ms Berejiklian again whether the prospect of Mr Maguire retiring played a part in the decision.
Ms Berejiklian said that factor had “absolutely not” been a consideration for her.
“No, and I’m quite offended by the question if I can say that,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“I’m really offended because every decision I made was in the public interest.”
Ms Berejiklian’s testimony came on day 10 of public hearings into her conduct in office.
The ICAC is investigating whether she had a conflict of interest in having part in awarding money to Wagga Wagga without disclosing the relationship, whether she failed in her duty to report suspected corruption, and whether she encouraged that kind of behaviour by turning a blind eye.
Ms Berejiklian on Friday confirmed Mr Maguire’s evidence that the pair were in love, discussed marriage and having a child, and would stay together from time to time.
She denied that the relationship was of sufficient status to disclose, even though she was shown a text message she wrote to Mr Maguire in April 2018, telling him “You are my family”.
Ms Berejiklian said she stood by the decision not to disclose the relationship, and also said that at the time, she didn’t even consider making such a disclosure.
When asked about several other disclosures she had made, including about her familial ties to some public servants, she said it was different because they were related by blood.
Ms Berejiklian contended Mr Maguire’s level of access to her was the same as that enjoyed by other MPs.
“I was always able to distinguish between my private life and my public responsibilities,” Ms Berejiklian said.
She said she didn’t suspect Mr Maguire was corrupt in the time they were dating.
After listening to an intercepted phone call from 2018 in which Mr Maguire told her he had been summoned to appear at ICAC as a witness, Ms Berejiklian said he believed him when he said he had done nothing wrong.
Mr Maguire was later accused of making false statements to the ICAC.
In the same 2018 phone call, Ms Berejiklian said she didn’t “want to know any of that stuff” when Mr Maguire mentioned some “skulduggery” the ICAC may be interested in probing.
Ms Berejiklian was played a number of other intercepted phone calls with Mr Maguire as well.
The recordings included one where she told Mr Maguire she could get him “$170 million in five minutes” and that the then-treasurer, current NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, “does what I ask him”.
Mr Perrottet was not suspected of wrongdoing, Mr Robertson told the commission.
In another tapped phone call between the pair, Ms Berejiklian told Mr Maguire she would “sack” a public servant she didn’t like, but considered waiting until he could “fix” a problem Mr Maguire had. The bureaucrat is still in the public service today, Ms Berejiklian said.
She will continue giving evidence on Monday.
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