Gladys Berejiklian’s bid to appeal ICAC finding and restore her reputation a risky move

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Sarah Blake
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is challenging the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s findings against her.
Former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is challenging the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s findings against her. Credit: Don Arnold/Getty Images

It was the secret relationship that shocked Australia and which a popular former premier had managed to distance herself from as she plots life outside politics in a senior corporate role.

But the longstanding affair between Gladys Berejiklian and disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire was once again in the spotlight as her legal challenge of the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s findings against her started in the NSW Court of Appeal on Monday.

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Neither Ms Berejiklian nor the “serial pest lobbyist” Mr Maguire were required to speak in court as her lawyers sought a judicial review of the ICAC’s June 2023 findings, but their “personal attachment” was repeatedly referred to by her counsel, Bret Walker SC.

Ms Berejiklian was last June found to have engaged in “serious corrupt conduct” by the ICAC over her dealings with Mr Maguire, with whom she had a “close personal relationship” between 2014 and 2020 while she was treasurer and later premier of NSW.

She was found to have breached public trust by failing to report the romance, but Mr Walker argued politicians were human and had personal attachments to family, friends and others.

“Our ministers are not members of enclosed religious orders,” he said.

Gladys Berejiklian sensationally revealed on Monday she was in a relationship with Daryl Maguire.
Gladys Berejiklian was in a relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire. Credit: METHODE

ICAC found against Ms Berejiklian for sitting on a cabinet committee considering multimillion-dollar funding arrangements pushed by Mr Maguire to benefit his Wagga Wagga electorate.

Between 2016 and 2018, Ms Berejiklian was involved in approving or supporting allocations of $5.5 million for the Wagga-based Australian Clay Target Association and $10 million for the Riverina Conservatorium of Music.

Mr Walker said there was no evidence her wish to maintain or advance the relationship with Mr Maguire played a role in her decision-making and said that she didn’t have to disclose her relationship with him in the same way that a family relationship was required to be reported.

“The reason why family attachments are included in the connections that make, for example, for the register of interests, is precisely because of the evident social truism that families like to get rich together,” Mr Walker said.

“That… is not, in our submission, something that applies to all personal attachments.”

Mr Walker said the relationship with Maguire wasn’t one that would be categorised as “cronyism”.

“Some private attachments will absolutely blossom or generate into the kind of private interests that must not be operative in the decision making (of a politician),” he said, but this was not the case with Ms Berejiklian.

“The bogeyman that we are trying to identity and argue against is the notion that simply because there is a relationship there is an impulse that is described in the report as a desire to maintain the relationship…. (and) prevent it from declining or disappearing,” he said.

Mr Walker said that assuming every relationship a politician engaged in was improper was a “black, depressing and utterly unrealistic view of human life” and would make their job impossible given that most policy levers — such as taxation or health care services — could potentially impact their wellbeing.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 12: NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian during a press conference at NSW Parliament House after giving evidence at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption on October 12, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. The NSW Premier has been called to give evidence at the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Monday, as part of an inquiry into former Wagga Wagga Liberal MP Daryl Maguire. (Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images)
Ms Berejiklian was last June found to have engaged in “serious corrupt conduct” by the ICAC over her dealings with Mr Maguire. Credit: Sam Mooy/Getty Images

Ms Berejiklian’s counsel also argued that the ICAC report may not be valid because of legal issues around the expiry of an assistant commissioner’s term.

Mr Walker said that former Court of Appeal judge Ruth McColl handed down the 699-page final report a day after her term had ended, and that therefore she had acted beyond her authority and that the findings should be quashed.

Now a senior executive with Optus, Ms Berejiklian resigned as premier in October 2021, after the ICAC revealed that she was under investigation for the relationship with Maguire.

Her decision to appeal the ICAC finding was described as high stakes, whatever the outcome.

“It’s a case which has pretty dramatic consequences for both sides,” barrister and Centre for Public Integrity director Geoffrey Watson SC, told AAP.

“For Ms Berejiklian ... if that challenge fails, that’s in effect the judicial confirmation of the finding of serious corrupt conduct.

“And I guess that would carry even a bigger mark than a finding by ICAC.”

Communications expert Mark Forbes, director of Icon Reputation and a former newspaper editor, said the endeavour was personally risky for Ms Berejiklian and was one that he usually advised clients against taking.

“Going to court is absolutely the riskiest way for people to seek what they see as vindication,” Mr Forbes said.

“Suddenly you’re moving to a very public forum which you don’t control.”

A hugely popular state premier credited with steering NSW through the worst of the pandemic, Ms Berejeklian experienced a head-spinning fall from grace after her connection with Mr Maguire emerged.

At one point she was being courted for federal parliament by then PM Scott Morrison, and while there is speculation the ICAC challenge is geared towards making a return to public life, sources close to Ms Berejiklian described it more as an attempt to restore her reputation.

The hearing, in the NSW Court of Appeal, continues.

- WITH AAP

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