The Politics    Wednesday, October 14, 2020

‘Woo hoo!’

By Paddy Manning

‘Woo hoo!’

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Image via ABC News.

Berejiklian is implicated in her former partner’s corrupt conduct

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is digging her government deeper and deeper into a hole as she attempts to defend the indefensible, insisting that she has done nothing wrong and never would. If only getting oneself off the hook was so easy. Berejiklian might have been a reasonably good premier, but winning a single election and being well liked doesn’t mean she is above reproach, much less above the law. Berejiklian’s defence doesn’t even make sense: today she told reporters that her secret partner (until recently), the corrupt former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire, did not benefit from his relationship with her. To the contrary, all the evidence we’ve seen at ICAC hearings to date suggests that his relationship with the premier was Maguire’s stock-in-trade! What’s more, according to one report today, it may be that Berejiklian has already misled ICAC. The premier was intimately familiar with Maguire’s flagrantly corrupt activities (when told of one deal, she texted back: “woo hoo!”), but did nothing. When NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay asked Berejiklian about that in Question Time today, the premier tried to turn the tables by asking what McKay had done while she was sitting on government benches alongside corrupt former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid. In what could prove a turning point in NSW politics, McKay actually had a good answer: “Unlike you, I reported it to ICAC!”

Two no-confidence motions against Berejiklian were adjourned today, so the premier limps on for now, but Maguire’s ICAC evidence has not yet finished being heard, let alone a report handed down, let alone a trial that could surely put him in jail. This scandal has years to run and, if she survives, will dog Berejiklian all the way to the next election. Probably beyond. 

Maguire’s evidence at ICAC today was stunning. He basically admitted he monetised his position as an MP, particularly in promoting his fraudulent Chinese cash-for-visas scheme. (And one wonders whether the thoroughly apolitical Australian Federal Police might have done anything about that, given it had no problem raiding the office of Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane, destroying his parliamentary career, and then declaring he was no longer of interest.) But today the main game is not Maguire’s corrupt shenanigans – he is done for – it’s the premier herself. When he was asked if he had ever taken a fee in exchange for introducing someone to another MP or the premier, Maguire said he hadn’t because “that would be going too far”. The Australian’s Caroline Overington says that means “he never pimped out Gladys”, but it’s too early to judge.

The depth of Berejiklian’s five-year relationship with Maguire means there is a hell of a lot for journalists to pick over in the coming days, weeks, months and years. One such example is this story from the ABC’s Conor Duffy, which reveals that Berejiklian attended a meeting as treasurer with Maguire about a major local transport project that received funding despite opposition from the roads minister. As Guardian Australia reports, then Opposition leader Luke Foley questioned Berejiklian in parliament in 2018 on why she had retained Maguire as a parliamentary secretary “even after he arranged for her to meet convicted criminals Gino Scutti and Nicholas Tinning”. Now we know. 

Former ICAC commissioner Anthony Whealy QC, head of the Centre for Public Integrity and a staunch advocate of a federal anti-corruption watchdog, told the ABC today that he would not rush to judgement ahead of any finding of corrupt conduct against the premier, especially given she has been so well regarded, and that she should not stand down. “She stood by her man,” said Whealy. Which is true: she stood by a corrupt politician, and did nothing. For that reason alone, she should go. 

But there’s more bad news for Berejiklian, with the state’s upper house having its own no-confidence debate this afternoon, and key crossbenchers vowing not to pass government legislation unless she steps aside. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party leader Robert Borsak said: “We have lost all confidence in her, and we call on her colleagues to tap her on the shoulder and ask her to stand aside.” It’s terminal.

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The list

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“Australia imports more than 90 per cent of its medicines and sits at the end of long and complex pharmaceutical supply chains. While the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how this puts our safety at risk, it is not a new problem … Significantly, in the time of COVID-19, Australia’s vaccine manufacturing capacity is less than it was a decade ago. And despite the new-found interest in boosting Australian manufacturing, the details released in the budget package are sparse. So far, there is little sign the government has a strategic plan to tackle the problems.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.

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