So far, the ICAC has heard from 12 people who were working in the bureaucracy or in politics when the state government made multimillion-dollar funding promises to two organisations in the Wagga Wagga electorate of then NSW Liberal MP Daryl Maguire: a gun club called the Australian Clay Target Association and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music. The witnesses are not accused of wrongdoing.
Mr Maguire “vociferously advocated for government support” for the gun club and the conservatorium, counsel assisting the ICAC, Scott Robertson, alleged in his opening address last week, and his advocacy extended to lobbying the then-treasurer and later premier, Gladys Berejiklian.
The inquiry has previously heard Ms Berejiklian and Mr Maguire were in a secret relationship between 2015 and at least 2018. The relationship only came to light in public when Ms Berejiklian gave evidence at the ICAC in October last year. Contact between the pair did not cease until September last year, the then-premier admitted during her evidence at the ICAC last year.
Mr Maguire and Ms Berejiklian are slated to give evidence at the inquiry on Thursday and Friday. It is important to note that no findings have been made against them and Ms Berejiklian has denied all wrongdoing. She has said history will show she acted in the best interests of the people of NSW.
Yesterday, the inquiry heard bombshell evidence from Sarah Cruickshank, who was Ms Berejiklian’s former chief of staff from January 2017 to early last year:
- Ms Cruickshank said the then-premier called her on July 13, 2018, after Mr Maguire had given evidence at a separate ICAC inquiry, and told her she had been in a “historical” relationship with Mr Maguire that ended before she became premier in January 2017. “I left the conversation with the impression it was more than just a few dinners,” Ms Cruickshank said. “I didn’t get the sense it was a full-blown intense relationship but I’m just reading that.”
- The call was more than two years before the relationship became public. Ms Berejiklian told the ICAC in October last year that she had in fact been in a relationship with Mr Maguire between 2015 and at least 2018, which included well over a year of her time as premier. Contact between the pair did not cease until September 13 last year. Ms Berejiklian had announced on July 21, 2018, that Mr Maguire would quit politics following his evidence at the earlier ICAC inquiry. “I actually asked for his resignation,” Ms Berejiklian told the ICAC last year.
- Ms Cruickshank is not accused of wrongdoing. She said that she did not believe in 2018 that disclosures needed to be made because Ms Berejiklian had told her the relationship had ended before she became premier. Asked by ICAC Assistant Commissioner Ruth McColl, SC, if Ms Berejiklian had “lied” to her, Ms Cruickshank said: “That’s your word, Commissioner, but, yes, I, I did not know what … the premier had said last year.” Pressed about whether there was “any other description of it than a lie”, Ms Cruickshank replied: “No, there probably isn’t. I’m just uncomfortable using the word. But I accept the word, yep.”
- Ms Cruickshank said that if she had known the relationship was ongoing she would have “sat down with [the premier] … and gone through whether or not there were implications for things she had done”. She said she would have told Mr Maguire that Ms Berejiklian should not be involved in decision-making in relation to his proposals and she should be kept at arm’s length.
- But Ms Cruickshank also said this was about “optics” and she had not seen evidence of Ms Berejiklian favouring proposals from Mr Maguire. She said her former boss 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.
- Ms Cruickshank was taken to an email in 2017 in which the head of the Department of Regional NSW was keeping her informed of a proposal for an upgrade of a gun club in Mr Maguire’s electorate. By this stage, the state government had signed off on a $5.5 million conditional grant for the club, the Australian Clay Target Association. The ICAC has heard this was a pet project of Mr Maguire’s and that it was the subject of an urgent funding proposal brought before cabinet’s expenditure review committee when Ms Berejiklian was treasurer in December 2016. But Ms Cruickshank said she couldn’t recall having any specific “or even passing” interest in the gun club in 2017 and “that remains the case today”.
A number of current and former politicians have also given evidence so far, including former NSW premier Mike Baird, former deputy premier John Barilaro and the deputy leader of the NSW Liberals, Trade and Industry Minister Stuart Ayres.
All have described the relationship between Ms Berejiklian and Mr Maguire, which was not known to them until last year, as a conflict of interest.
Mr Barilaro said the government would have done “everything differently” if it had been aware of the relationship when it was considering a $5.5 million grant to the Australian Clay Target Association.
He told the ICAC that Ms Berejiklian “would not have been part of the conversation or the debate”. Ms Berejiklian was the NSW treasurer and chair of cabinet’s expenditure review committee in December 2016 when the state government signed off on the grant.
Had the government known of the relationship, Mr Barilaro said “we all would have had a level of conflict” and there may have been a “ripple effect of conflicts that we would have had to manage, not just the interest conflict of interest for Ms Berejiklian”.
Mr Barilaro said the same considerations applied when assessing a proposed multimillion-dollar grant to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Wagga Wagga, which was also pushed by Mr Maguire and considered by the Berejiklian government.
Mr Barilaro told the ICAC he had seen MPs disclose less serious relationships such as acquaintances.
“I’ve seen many of us declare conflicts of interest for just knowing someone because we worked with someone or have been an associate with someone, let alone being in a relationship,” he said.
“The conflict was the relationship.”
Asked by Ms Berejiklian’s barrister, Sophie Callan, SC, if he had also disclosed intimate relationships, Mr Barilaro said: “That’s a hard question because my relations are with my family, that’s a hard one to disclose.”
Both Mr Ayres and Mr Baird gave evidence that Ms Berejiklian should have disclosed that she was in a relationship with Mr Maguire in December 2016 when she was NSW treasurer and chair of the expenditure review committee, which ultimately signed off on funding for the gun club upgrade.
However, Mr Ayres also said he couldn’t see how Ms Berejiklian or Mr Maguire would “derive a private benefit from this project”.
Mr Baird’s former director of strategy, Nigel Blunden, told the ICAC he was sceptical about the urgent funding proposal for the gun club and the “lack of an appropriate business case”.
In a memo to Mr Baird on December 12, 2016, two days before the expenditure review committee signed off on funding, Mr Blunden wrote: “As Joel Goodsen [sic, a reference to Tom Cruise’s character in the 1983 film Risky Business] famously said, sometimes you gotta say WTF.”
He told Mr Baird in the memo that “increased tourism accounts for 97% [of] the forecast benefits (so it’s suss),” the business case had not been subjected to independent review, and there was no feasibility study.
Mr Blunden also told Mr Baird the proponents should “go away, test the assumptions, verify the business case and then come back when it’s solid”, as Mr Blunden suggested earlier in December, but “Daryl fired up and Gladys put it back on” the agenda.
Michael Toohey, a director in the NSW Office of Sport, gave evidence on Monday last week, while a former executive director in the office to whom Mr Toohey reported, Paul Doorn, gave evidence on Tuesday.
The men told the ICAC about the circumstances in which the office, which is a state government agency, was asked by Mr Ayres’ office to prepare an urgent funding submission for the gun club in late 2016. The proposal was regarded by both men as a low priority that had an insufficient business case.
Mr Toohey said it would have been “absolutely” relevant to him to know that Mr Maguire was in a relationship with the then-treasurer at the time he was advocating for the proposal. Mr Doorn said it would have been a “red flag”.
On Thursday and Friday last week, two more bureaucrats gave evidence: Department of Regional NSW deputy secretary Chris Hanger and his boss, Gary Barnes. Mr Hanger told the ICAC that the secret relationship between Ms Berejiklian and Mr Maguire was a potential conflict of interest and it would have changed the way he approached his work on the two proposed grants involving Mr Maguire’s electorate.
Mr Hanger said that if he had known about the relationship, he would have “put in place ways of identifying and managing … conflicts of interest” and notified his senior managers.
As noted above, the ICAC has heard that a second business case for the gun club, prepared in 2017 after the $5.5 million grant was made conditional on a satisfactory business case, estimated the benefit cost ratio for the project was below one (0.88), which was too low to justify state agency Infrastructure NSW backing the plan.
A subsequent version of the business case put the ratio at 1.1, which was high enough to justify funding.
“As you understood it, a request was made after that first round of assessment that showed a BCR of less than 1 to do further work to see if that less than 1 could become a 1 or more than 1, correct?” counsel assisting the ICAC, Scott Robertson, asked Mr Hanger.
“That’s correct,” he replied.
“As you understood it, that request was a request made by the premier herself, correct?” Mr Robertson said.
“Yes,” Mr Hanger replied.