The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has found that former state premier Gladys Berejiklian engaged in serious corrupt conduct when she took part in committee meetings that granted $15.5 million in funds towards two projects advocated for by former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire, with whom she had an undisclosed personal relationship at the time.
The watchdog also claimed that by concealing the conduct she suspected might concern Maguire, Berejiklian "undermined the high standards of probity that are sought to be achieved by the ministerial code which, as premier, Ms Berejiklian substantially administered".
Berejiklian presided over or was a member of Expenditure Review Committee (ERC) meetings that approved grants for the Australian Clay Target Association (ACTA) and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music (RCM).
"The Commission finds that Ms Berejiklian engaged in serious corrupt conduct by breaching public trust in 2016 and 2017 through exercising her official functions in relation to funding promised and/or awarded to ACTA, without disclosing her close personal relationship with Mr Maguire," ICAC stated following the release of its report on 'Operational Keppel'.
The corruption commission notes this all took place while Berejiklian was in a position of a conflict of interest between her public duty and her private interest, which could objectively have the potential to influence the performance of her public duty.
"The Commission also finds that in the same period, Ms Berejiklian partially exercised her official functions, in connection with funding promised to ACTA, influenced by the existence of her close personal relationship with Mr Maguire."
ICAC also found that the former NSW premier took a "number of actions" in relation to the ACTA proposal while knowing Maguire was its principal proponent.
"These included, when she was treasurer, causing the proposal to be included on the agenda and supporting it at the ERC meeting on 14 December 2016 and when she was premier, causing steps to be taken by staff from her office to follow up on the progress of the ACTA proposal following the ERC ACTA decision," ICAC stated.
"This included by communicating a request that the initial benefit–cost ratio (BCR) calculation of 0.88, by the Department of Premier and Cabinet Investment Appraisal Unit, be revisited. This ultimately led to it achieving a BCR satisfactory for Infrastructure NSW to approve its funding."
The report found that in 2018 Berejiklian partially exercised her official functions, "influenced by the existence of her close personal relationship with Mr Maguire, or by a desire on her part to maintain or advance that relationship", in connection with funding promised and awarded to a proposal to build a recital hall for the Riverina Conservatorium of Music.
"The Commission finds that she breached public trust by exercising her official functions in relation to decisions concerning the RCM proposal which she knew was advanced by Mr Maguire."
After $10 million was granted for Stage 1 of a project to refurbish and repurpose a new government-owned site so it could be fit-for-purpose for the conservatorium, Berejiklian also determined to make a $20 million funding reservation for Stage 2 of that proposal.
"This meant the reserved funds, which entailed a significant sum of public monies, could not be spent on other projects until they were released," ICAC stated.
"This was at a time when she was in a position of a conflict of interest between her public duty and her private interest in maintaining or advancing her close personal relationship with Mr Maguire, which could objectively have had the potential to influence the performance of her public duty."
The Commission rejects Berejiklian's submission that as premier, the ministerial code did not apply to her, finding that she "substantially breached the ministerial code" by failing in her duty to act honestly and in the public interest in her conduct regarding the RCM proposal.
"The Commission also finds that Ms Berejiklian engaged in serious corrupt conduct by refusing to discharge her duty under section 11 of the ICAC Act to notify the Commission of her suspicion that Mr Maguire had engaged in activities which concerned, or might have concerned, corrupt conduct," ICAC stated.
"At the time Ms Berejiklian failed to report her suspicions to the Commission, she was the premier of the state. The report notes that Ms Berejiklian must have known that she was not entitled to refuse to exercise her official functions for her own private benefit, or for the benefit of Mr Maguire.
"To do so to conceal conduct she suspected concerned, or have might concerned, corrupt conduct on the part of Mr Maguire, another member of Parliament, both to protect herself and him from the Commission exercising its investigative powers was grave misconduct."
Its report was much more scathing of Maguire's conduct however, with ICAC determining he improperly used his office and resources he could access as a member of parliament to benefit G8wayInternational Pty Ltd, a company of which he was in substance a director, and whose profits he had an arrangement to share with others.
The corruption watchdog determined Maguire misused his role as an MP to advance his own financial interests, as well as the commercial interests of his associates, in connection with an immigration scheme that he promoted to his constituents and others connected with his electoral district.
"Also, as an MP and chair of the NSW Parliament Asia Pacific Friendship Group, Mr Maguire misused those roles to advance his own financial interests and the commercial interests of his associates.
"Other misuse of his office as an MP included attempting to advance his own private financial interests and/or those of people associated with him in connection with the sale and/or development of land in NSW.
ICAC is seeking the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on whether any prosecution should be commenced, noting its opinion that consideration should be given to obtaining advice from the DPP about the prosecution of Mr Maguire, G8wayInternational director Phillip Elliott and Maggie Wang, an associate of Mr Maguire, for various offences.
The Commission is however not of the opinion that consideration should be given to obtaining the advice of the DPP with respect to the prosecution of Berejiklian for any offence.
Get our daily business news
Sign up to our free email news updates.