'One of the most difficult days in my life': Gladys Berejiklian vows to fight on

By Michael McGowan

The New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has admitted she “stuffed up” in her personal life, but has stared down calls to resign following extraordinary revelations she had for years maintained a secret “close personal relationship” with the disgraced former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire.

In a press conference following her explosive appearance before the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (Icac) on Monday, Berejiklian declared she had not considered resigning “because I haven’t done anything wrong”.

“Hands down, this has been one of the most difficult days of my life,” an emotional Berejiklian said. “I’m an extremely private person and, without question, I stuffed up in my personal life.”

“If I had done something wrong I would be the first one to do that [resign]. If I had done something wrong I would be the first one to consider my position. But I haven’t.

“Had I known then what I know now, clearly I would not have made those personal decisions that I did.”

During the Icac hearing on Monday, Berejiklian admitted she had been in “a close personal relationship” with Maguire when he was forced to resign from parliament amid a separate corruption scandal in 2018.

A series of intercepted phone calls played during her four-hour appearance before the commission revealed Maguire had told the premier that he potentially stood to make hundreds of thousands of dollars if land owned by the racing heir Louise Waterhouse near the site of the new western Sydney airport was rezoned.

The payment would have been enough to pay off “about half” of his $1.5m personal debt, Maguire told Berejiklian in one phone call.

Berejiklian responded: “I don’t need to know about that bit.”

But facing the media on Monday afternoon, Berejiklian attempted to frame her mistake as a “personal one”, describing the revelations about her relationship as a “personal nightmare” and saying her “failing” was to trust Maguire.

“They were his interests. I didn’t have any interest in them. I didn’t care too much about his interests, because it was his responsibility to disclose them, as is the responsibility of every member of parliament,” she said.

“And when you’ve known – and this is my failing – when you’ve known someone for a long time and you put your trust in them, you assume they’re doing the right thing. And that’s what I assumed. I assumed he was doing the right thing.”

During her evidence, Berejiklian told the inquiry that she had dismissed, or not cared about, much of what Maguire disclosed to her because he was “well known” for “talking big” and that much of it was “pie in the sky”. Asked if that excuse passed muster, again Berejiklian defended herself by saying she assumed Maguire would disclose his own pecuniary interests.

“I had no knowledge, no details, and I assumed that all of my colleagues – and all of my colleagues have to disclose their interests at the right time, all of my colleagues – it depends on the interests,” she said.

“And at that time, as I said – because I trusted him, because I trusted him – I had no reason at the time to imagine that he was doing anything wrong, because I trusted him, and I assumed that, if there was any interests to be declared, that he did that. That if there was any interest to register, that he did that. And that’s yet to be determined.”

Gladys Berejiklian tells Icac of 'close personal relationship' with former MP Daryl Maguire – video

The NSW Icac is investigating allegations Maguire misused his position as an MP and parliamentary secretary to improperly gain a benefit for himself or for G8way International, a company he “effectively controlled”.

It has previously heard Maguire sought payments to help broker deals for Chinese property developers, and helped “grease the wheels” of a deal to sell Waterhouse’s land near the proposed airport in 2017 and 2018.

During Monday’s hearing, the premier revealed that she had only ceased contact with Maguire last month, after she appeared at a private hearing related to the Icac’s investigation. Asked why she continued to have contact with him, Berejiklian revealed Maguire’s son-in-law had died on the same day she had sacked him from the party and that she “carried a bit of guilt”.

“Perhaps some of you would make a different decision, but think about people you’ve known in your life for 15 years who you’d been close to for a long time, and when he was in that very dark place, I didn’t feel that I could just stop being his close friend,” she said.

“He was extremely angry with me, I was extremely angry with him. I sacked him, convinced him not only to leave parliament, but accosted others to help me convince him to leave parliament.

“But I also have to say, from a compassionate position, this is a person who – again, put yourself in my position. I’d known him for 15 years, he lost his career, his friends, he lost everything, and he was in a very dark place, and I didn’t feel that I could stop being his friend during that time. Rightly or wrongly, on compassionate grounds.”