NSW taxpayers are still forking out cash to cover the legal fees of former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire during a corruption probe — and there are no plans for that to change.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption is examining whether former Premier Gladys Berejiklian breached public trust over a potential conflict of interest during her secret relationship with Mr Maguire.
The watchdog is looking at whether Ms Berejiklian ignored alleged corrupt conduct.
Fronting a budget estimates hearing on Monday, Attorney-General Mark Speakman confirmed Mr Maguire’s legal costs were still being met by the people of NSW.
“I don’t know whether all his legal costs are being met,” Mr Speakman said.
“I don’t know whether there is a gap between that part that the state is funding on the one hand, and what he might be personally incurring on the other hand.”
Mr Speakman said Mr Maguire’s legal costs were being covered under the ICAC Act as a witness in a public inquiry, which was approved by the Attorney-General’s delegate.
Financial assistance can be approved by the attorney-general or his delegate if it is considered appropriate having regard to the prospect of hardship to the person if it was declined, the significance of the evidence they will give and any other matter relating to public interest.
“The decision to grant him legal assistance was not one made by me, but under delegation by the then secretary of the department,” Mr Speakman said.
“In all these cases, given the potential controversy about granting legal assistance to any current or former politicians, it’s been my practice to keep well away … from the decision-making.”
It was put to Mr Speakman that the public now had “more information” about Mr Maguire’s “behaviour” and that the attorney-general should ask his delegate to review the appropriateness of continuing to pay Mr Maguire’s legal fees.
“I think it’s very important that in these cases before ICAC there is no political interference one way or another with the provision of legal assistance,” Mr Speakman said.
“I intend to keep at arm’s length from that … I do not intend to involve myself in any decisions about legal assistance to any witness to ICAC.
“It’s important that politicians, or that ministers, keep well away from those decisions.”
Mr Speakman said it was a condition of legal assistance that if there was a criminal finding against the witness then there would be a “clawback” of that money.
Department of Communities and Justice acting secretary Catherine D’Elia could not say how much had already been paid so far to cover Mr Maguire’s legal costs.
“I would have to take that on notice,” she said.
Ms D’Elia said generally it would cost $180 per hour, plus GST, for preparatory attendance to a maximum of three hours.
It would cost a further $240 per hour, plus GST, to a maximum of $1440, plus GST, for attendance before ICAC, she added.
Mr Speakman said he had no role in the application brought by the Department of Premier and Cabinet to have the bulk of the ICAC hearings last week and this week — in relation to cabinet in confidence documents — in private.
He said he did not know about it until Ms Berejiklian’s lawyer made the application on Friday morning.
“I was unaware (before that) of any application to keep any part of last week’s evidence confidential, private, suppressed — however you want to put it,” he said.
Asked if he was aware of a submission made by the department on October 14 that all matters regarding cabinet in confidence documents should be in private hearings, he said: “To the best of my recollection, no.”
Further asked if this was the first time he had become aware that the application was made by the department, he replied: “To the best of my recollection, yes.”
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