Berejiklian ‘not a member of closed religious order’, entitled to personal life, court told

Ministers will always have personal attachments and these relationships do not automatically equate to corruption, lawyers for ex-NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian have argued.

Feb 26, 2024, updated Feb 26, 2024
Former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian with her then-boyfriend Daryl Maguire. (AAP file image).

Former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian with her then-boyfriend Daryl Maguire. (AAP file image).

Assuming these types of relationships meant impropriety was a “black, depressing and utterly unrealistic view of human life”, a court has heard as Ms Berejiklian tries to overturn corruption findings made against her.

In June, the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption found the former premier breached public trust by refusing to report her covert liaison with disgraced Liberal MP Daryl Maguire.

On Monday, Ms Berejiklian’s barrister Bret Walker SC gave submissions to the NSW Court of Appeal seeking a judicial review of these findings.

He argued politicians were human and had personal attachments to family, friends and others.

“Our ministers are not members of enclosed religious orders,” he told three judges of the court.

“If they were, by the way, the religion would be the attachment.”

ICAC found one scenario constituting “serious corrupt conduct” included Ms Berejiklian sitting on a cabinet committee considering multimillion-dollar funding arrangements pushed by Maguire to benefit his Wagga Wagga electorate.

Between 2016 and 2018, as treasurer and then premier, 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 Maguire played a role in her decision-making.

He also quarrelled with ICAC’s findings that Ms Berejiklian had breached her duty by merely failing to tell the public the Wagga Wagga MP was her boyfriend.

Something could not be a conflict of interest if simply disclosing it would remove that conflict, he said.

Mr Walker argued the commission failed to examine whether the clay-shooting and conservatorium proposals would have been green-lit without Ms Berejiklian’s relationship with Maguire.

Members of the expenditure review committee who had political but not personal connections with Maguire had also given their approval, he said.

It was not ICAC’s role to overturn parliament’s decisions and examine whether certain proposals were in the public interest, Mr Walker argued.

“It won’t be a substantial breach simply because ICAC thinks there shouldn’t be a conservatorium in Wagga Wagga,” he said.

Mr Walker also argued that former judge Ruth McColl, who was appointed assistant commissioner to help with the inquiry, did not have the authority to prepare the ICAC report.

While Ms McColl’s appointment as assistant commissioner expired in October 2022, she was kept on as a consultant for a further eight months before the report was published.

Mr Walker said this meant ICAC acted outside its authority by adopting findings made by her that Ms Berejiklian’s evidence was not credible.

ICAC stopped short of recommending criminal charges against the former premier, citing “formidable” obstacles to prosecution.

Following the report’s explosive release, Ms Berejiklian stated publicly she had always worked her hardest in the public interest.

The hearing continues.

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