October 21, 2020

State politics

The personal is political

By Russell Marks
Image of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (image via ABC News) and former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire (Image © Dean Lewins / AAP Image)

A closer inspection of Gladys Berejiklian’s relationship with Daryl Maguire and why it matters

In November 2006, Norm Marlborough, a Yorkshire-born former fitter and turner and then a Western Australian MP and minister, fronted a corruption inquiry in Perth and was asked to explain why he’d been in phone contact with Brian Burke, the former premier. At the time, Burke was known to the public as a politician on the make, who’d had two stints in prison, and who everyone denied meeting, even when there were photos. But he was also an in-demand lobbyist for business interests. Before the day was out, Marlborough – in parliament for two decades – was forced to resign.

Now, on the other side of the country, Gladys Berejiklian is in a similar pickle. She didn’t need a secret mobile phone to communicate with the former MP for Wagga Wagga, Daryl Maguire. She was in a relationship with him. Exactly what kind of relationship has proven a little difficult to pin down, but presumably they did more than call each other surreptitiously between parliamentary sittings, as Burke and Marlborough used to do. But Berejiklian isn’t going anywhere, at least for the moment. It’s worth asking, then: what’s the difference between WA’s former minister for small business and the NSW premier?

Maybe Daryl Maguire wasn’t really all that corrupt after all?

Perhaps it’s unfair to compare Brian Burke, the infamous WA Inc premier, with Daryl Maguire, a former Harvey Norman salesperson turned career backbencher. Burke, after all, was really corrupt – right? And maybe Maguire was only a little bit corrupt?

This doesn’t bear analysis. In May 2016 Maguire, who’d just returned from a trip to China, telephoned his mate Michael Hawatt. At the time, Hawatt was a Liberal councillor on the now-infamous (and now-defunct) Canterbury City Council. With a fellow councillor, Labor’s Pierre Azzi, Hawatt had created a developers’ haven. By the end of 2014 the council’s planning director, Marcelo Occhiuzzi, had become so sick of their “aggressive” pro-developer antics that he’d quit. Hawatt and Azzi then used a combination of blackmail and threats to have the unqualified Spiro Stavis installed as Occhiuzzi’s replacement. Stavis began authoring pro-development planning reports, which the other councillors relied on to approve developers’ proposals that breached the council’s own laws and state legislation – even against the often damning findings of independent panels. If we can believe them, some councillors didn’t even know that’s what they were doing. “Are you telling me I voted for something that hadn’t gone to the state government [for approval]?” was the response of former Greens councillor Linda Eisler when she was asked about particular planning decisions by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Lisa Visentin in 2017.

In January 2015 the council’s general manager, Jim Montague, referred both Azzi and Hawatt to the Independent Commission Against Corruption. In retaliation, the “junta” of Labor and Liberal councillors the pair controlled voted to sack Montague, and eventually allegations would be made against Montague himself. The whole affair reads like the plot of a Murray Whelan novel.

“My client is mega big, okay,” Maguire MP notoriously told Councillor Hawatt in May 2016. “My client is mega big and has got mega money and wants two or three [development application] approved projects right now. Today,” he added. They talked about a 3 per cent commission, divided equally between the two of them. But then the rug was pulled out from underneath them. Mike Baird, then premier, had had enough of councils like Canterbury’s. He sacked nearly 400 councillors across the state and slashed the number of councils from 152 to 115, in shades of Peter Beattie’s amalgamations north of the Tweed a decade earlier. Canterbury City Council was gone. But it wasn’t forgotten. ICAC had already begun investigating it – and recording Maguire’s calls.

It turns out that Maguire’s failed intervention on behalf of his “mega big” Chinese client in May wasn’t a once-off. As ICAC heard earlier this month, Maguire used his backbencher’s office in Macquarie Street as the part-time headquarters for a cosy little private business network called G8wayinternational Pty Ltd, for which he was the silent director. The parliamentary salary was nice. But G8wayinternational promised to be the big earner. It mostly didn’t pan out. By 2017 he was $1.5 million in the red, and when his marriage collapsed he copped a $1 million divorce settlement bill. That just made him even more desperate for cash.

Clearly, Maguire couldn’t survive his ICAC appearance in July 2018, when most of this became public. But he tried. When Baird sacked the Canterbury councillors, and the deal on behalf of Maguire’s “mega big” client consequently fell over, he realised he’d need to stay for at least one more term to pay for everything. After appearing at ICAC, he asked associates and staffers to destroy incriminating evidence. His party leader, Gladys Berejiklian, forced him to resign from the Liberal Party the following week. But he refused to resign his seat (which was earning him a minimum $3000 a week) until the election due in March 2019. Perhaps he thought that if he could ride it out, the newspapers would soon forget about him. Three weeks after his ICAC appearance, he finally resigned from parliament.

G8wayinternational didn’t “just” exploit Maguire’s connections in local and state government on behalf of property developers. It also pocketed “success fees” of up to $20,000 for every work visa Maguire managed to procure on behalf of Chinese nationals. An “essential element” of the scheme involved Maguire lying to federal immigration officials: he’d tell them about jobs in his Wagga Wagga electorate that probably didn’t exist.

G8wayinternational wasn’t WA Inc, because it was run by a backbencher, not a premier, and because it wasn’t very successful. But they appear to have operated according to the same principles: elected politicians using their public offices to make themselves and their mates rich. And ICAC was sufficiently interested in Daryl Maguire’s activities – which it learnt about while investigating Canterbury – to honour him with an investigation of his very own, codenamed “Operation Keppel”.

Maybe Gladys and Daryl weren’t really in much of a relationship?

ICAC’s power has perhaps never been more apparent than when Berejiklian, the sitting premier of Australia’s oldest jurisdiction, submitted herself for cross-examination last Monday. When she nodded and made noises that the transcript recorded as “ah hmm, ah hmm”, the commissioner, Ruth McColl, interjected. “Ms Berejiklian,” she said, “you actually have to answer, rather than just nod.”

After establishing that Berejiklian demanded Maguire’s resignation following his 2018 ICAC appearance, ICAC’s counsel assisting, Scott Robertson, asked the premier: “Ms Berejiklian, have you ever been in a close personal relationship with Mr Maguire?”

The premier took a little while to get to the point. “I would like to say at the outset that Mr Maguire was a colleague of 15 years,” she said. “He was someone that I trusted. He was a trusted colleague.” But ICAC isn’t Insiders or parliamentary Question Time, and Commissioner McColl wasn’t going to let that go on for any longer. “Ms Berejiklian,” she cut in, “you should answer the question. It was capable of a yes-or-no answer.”

“I am answering the question, commissioner,” the premier replied. “And that, and that” – she was clearly aware of the impact of what she was about to say – “and that developed into a close personal relationship.”

It wasn’t that nobody knew about Gladys and Daryl. But until that moment, it’s true to say that very few people did. Robertson pressed for more detail. They’d gotten together “slightly after” the 2015 election. Demanding his resignation hadn’t exactly done wonders for the relationship. But after that, she explained, “he was someone who was in a very bad state”. So, she thought she should “check on his welfare” occasionally, until she was summonsed to a private ICAC hearing on August 16. After that, it occurred to her that she should have “absolutely no contact anymore with that individual”. Perhaps surprisingly, her last “contact” with Maguire was a month later, on September 13.

Gladys and Daryl had gone to no small effort to keep their affair from their colleagues, and her family, who apparently learned of it only slightly before the rest of us did. So why is ICAC interested in it? In part, because if their relationship met the definition of “intimate personal relationship” under the NSW Ministerial Code of Conduct, then she was under a legal obligation to make a declaration every time she took any action that “could reasonably be expected to confer a private benefit” on Maguire. Awkwardly, the person she had to notify was the premier – herself – but she also had to place it on the Ministerial Register of Interests.

So just how close was their personal relationship? “I didn’t feel the relationship had sufficient substance for it to be made public,” Berejiklian told ICAC. Here, she was saying it wasn’t close enough for Maguire to meet the code of conduct’s definition of “family member”, just in case there was something she should have disclosed.

And that’s where things might have been left, except that on Sunday, Sydney’s Murdoch tabloid, The Daily Telegraph, published what is now known as the infamous “soft interview”. Everyone knows the drill. A politician in trouble agrees to – or actively places – a puff piece in a politically friendly media outlet. It’s supposed to help rehabilitate a public image, perhaps by showing a human side to the public personality. The narrative that Annette Sharp’s puff piece was promoting was clear: Gladys was an innocent romantic, swept up by a deceitful conman who lied, cheated and betrayed her. Don’t associate Gladys with Mr G8wayinternational. She’s a victim.

Which might possibly have worked, politically, if anyone was willing to suspend disbelief just long enough to accept that a state premier could be hoodwinked – for years – by a Wagga Wagga sofa salesman. But when Sharp asked whether Gladys “fell in love” with Maguire, she overshot. “I did,” the premier replied. Did she hope it would lead to marriage? “I thought it could, yes,” the premier replied. Love? Marriage? That sounds remarkably like the kind of “intimate personal relationship” that meets the code’s definition of “family member”.

At ICAC, Robertson asked the premier: “You’d have to accept, wouldn’t you, that Mr Maguire’s financial position would have a tendency to have at least some potential impact on you?” Berejiklian was resolute. “No. I never considered that, never ever. I’m an independent woman with my own finances. I would never, ever consider my position in relation to someone else’s in that regard.” She explained how adept she was at compartmentalising her personal and public lives: there was Premier Berejiklian and Maguire MP, and then there was Gladys and Daryl.

Of course, one’s independence doesn’t cancel out the fact that one is in a relationship. The premier can count herself lucky that she isn’t applying for Centrelink benefits: Centrelink defines relationships, and it assesses an applicant’s entitlements according to the couple’s combined income, regardless of how the applicant prefers to define herself.

Maybe Gladys didn’t know Daryl was corrupt?

Even if Berejiklian and Maguire were in an “intimate personal relationship”, it may not matter if the premier was never actually aware of any of Maguire’s personal financial interests. “I always had made the assumption that he was always doing the right thing in terms of his disclosures and his interests,” she told ICAC.

In November 2016, when Berejiklian was treasurer – and when she’d been in a relationship with Maguire for over a year – Maguire forwarded her, and a dozen other people, an email chain in which he appeared to be encouraging some kind of public action by staff in the office of the roads minister. “I would not have given that a second thought,” the premier told ICAC. “I would have assumed it’s something that doesn’t involve me and, therefore, would not have, not have given it any attention.” Commissioner McColl was sceptical. “Ms Berejiklian, this was sent to you by a person [with] whom you were at the time in a close personal relationship,” she pointed out. “Is this the sort of information Mr Maguire shared with you from time to time to tell you what he was doing?” When Berejiklian responded with a high-minded defence of her civic virtue, McColl observed: “That wasn’t quite the question I asked you.”

While Gladys herself “did not care” about Daryl’s financial position, she said he was “obsessed with it”. He told her about his debts, and more than just once or twice. He told her about some of his investments. In September 2017, he told her over the phone: “it looks like we finally got the Badgerys Creek stuff done, that’s good. I’ll be glad when that’s done ’cause I’ll make enough money to pay off my debts, which would be good.” He laughed. “Can you believe it? In one sale.” Gladys responded: “I can believe it.”

Just what exactly Maguire meant by the “Badgerys Creek stuff” is still being sifted through. It seems that he was lobbying the Greater Sydney Commission – an independent planning agency – on behalf of racing heiress Louise Waterhouse, who owned land near the site of the planned Western Sydney Airport, but also on behalf of himself, because – as he told Berejiklian – he’d earn a significant commission from the sale if it went through. The transcripts of these calls, recorded secretly by ICAC, suggest that Daryl was in the habit of talking to Gladys quite freely about his financial affairs. As one does with one’s intimate partner.

While Daryl was banging on about his debt, his deals and the “Badgerys Creek stuff” to Gladys, Berejiklian – as premier – was considering whether to move the Greater Sydney Commission out of the planning department and into her own personal ministerial control. Yesterday, The Australian reported that it had obtained written advice from department heads advising the premier against doing that. Dated 28 February 2018, the advice lists “more than a dozen reasons” why the commission should have stayed put. Yet Berejiklian overrode that advice, and the commission formally came under her own portfolio responsibilities in June 2018.

Then, in July 2018, 12 hectares of land at Badgerys Creek – owned by the Leppington Pastoral Company – was sold to the federal government for the purposes of building the airport, for nearly $30 million. Which was great, except for the fact that when the Australian National Audit Office valued the land the following year, they estimated that it was actually worth about a tenth of that. The Australian Federal Police began a criminal investigation late last week. The Leppington land is a different parcel of land than the one Daryl had spoken to Gladys about over the phone. But now the AFP wants to know whether Maguire had anything to do with this one as well.

During one phone call in September 2017, Daryl told Gladys: “William tells me we’ve done our deal so hopefully that’s about half of all that gone now.” “That’s good,” Gladys acknowledged. But then Berejiklian remembered who she was. She compartmentalised. “I don’t need to know about that bit,” she said. “No, you don’t,” Maguire agreed.

Clearly, Maguire was obsessed with his financial affairs. He spoke about them regularly with Berejiklian, while she was premier. He talked about earning a commission from a Badgery Creek land deal at the same time she knew an airport-related deal was afoot. He complained about “problems” with the Greater Sydney Commission just as she decided – against strong advice – to bring it within her portfolio control. How much the premier knew – or should have known – about Maguire’s dealings might be just the first question of many.

Maybe none of this matters because Gladys is in the Liberal Party?

Since Berejiklian’s extraordinary ICAC appearance last Monday, the Liberal Party faithful have lined up to very publicly support her. The Murdoch press has backed her. The very next day, Malcolm Turnbull told the ABC that she merely “fell in love with the wrong guy”, and that she should “certainly not” resign. Even the prime minister, Scott Morrison, who might have been expected to run a mile from anything that smelled even vaguely like it might once have resembled corruption, weighed in. “We are all human,” he said.

It’s unlikely that Berejiklian’s humanity would have scored her many points with NewsCorp or Morrison had her party stripes been red instead of blue. For a while in circa 2008, it seemed as if anyone in the labour movement who so much as thought about anyone in Brian Burke’s extended family risked being crucified on Capital Hill. Yet the ferocity with which Liberals and their friends in the Murdoch media pursue Labor corruption – often quite rightly – has collapsed into understanding and forgiveness for one of their own.

“There’s always the same key elements,” the Sydney Morning Herald’s Kate McClymont told the ABC recently. “Money, property development and greed.” McClymont’s beat is corruption, and she says local councils keep her far too busy. She estimates that she gets “at least” 10 referrals every week, asking her to investigate corruption at various Sydney councils. “Where you’ve got vast profits to be made in subdividing and developing land,” she says, “that in itself goes hand in hand with corruption.” And, as the cases of Daryl Magure, Brian Burke, Eddie Obeid and Gordon Nuttall demonstrate, corruption can and does leak into state politics. State corruption commissions aren’t exactly twiddling their thumbs. The only reason we don’t yet have a federal ICAC is that federal politicians have dragged their heels on creating one. Presumably there are reasons for that.

None of this fits Australia’s image as a place relatively free of corruption. Transparency International ranks Australia 12th (out of 198 countries) on its Corruption Perceptions Index, with a score of 77 out of 100 – though that score has been steadily dropping since 2012, when Australia ranked 6th. But the incentives are strong and the risks of detection are low, in part because journalists have fewer resources than ever.

Gladys Berejiklian is asking the NSW public to believe that she was simply unlucky in love. That she was so bored by her lover’s incessant talk about his debt and his deals that she paid no attention to it. That nothing he ever said gave her cause to think she should declare her relationship to him, and that the reason she moved the Greater Sydney Commission into her portfolios against departmental advice had nothing to do with the fact that her lover was complaining about it. If we decide that we’re happy to accept all this, then Norm Marlborough, for one, must count himself rather unlucky.

Russell Marks

Russell Marks is a lawyer and an adjunct research fellow at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015). 

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