That former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire was deceiving Gladys Berejiklian was clear as day if the premier had cared to look.
The fact that she didn’t speaks volumes about the casual acceptance within the Liberal Party of financial side-hustles, blurred lines between business and government and a disdain for accountability.
Exhibit one in the case against Berejiklian goes like this.
In February 2014 Maguire, then the local member for Wagga Wagga, texted the good news to Berejiklian that he was set to pocket a tidy $5000 from the sale of a motel. Maguire was a middle man and, he told Berejiklian, he was working with a Chinese “business partner”.
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Berejiklian was NSW transport minister, a member of cabinet and on the cusp of becoming deputy leader of the NSW Liberal Party. Her “close relationship” with Maguire was, according to her, yet to begin.
Did it ring alarm bells to one of the most senior Liberals in the country that a member of NSW parliament was picking up a lazy $5K in concert with a business partner? It seems not. What she did say — or text — was, “Great news!!! Woo hoo.”
Yet had she checked the publicly available register of members’ interests she would have discovered Maguire’s return for 2014 was decidedly mute when it came to declaring his extracurricular business activities.
Indeed, Maguire’s pecuniary interest returns barely registered any outside interests at all for the many years that he drew a salary on the public purse. Maguire — if you believed his declarations of interests over more than a decade in parliament — drew nothing more than rental from a handful of properties he owned jointly with his then wife.
On the one hand, the episode demonstrates the charade of the public declaration of members’ interests. It is a self-regulated system which a parliamentarian can treat with contempt, as Maguire chose to do. There is, after all, no penalty for being dishonest.
It also shows how meaningless it is as a tool for transparency if even a senior and well-regarded Liberal such as Berejiklian would not bother to check if Maguire was being upfront with his dealings.
It raises the spectre of a party whose culture is so degraded that even a cleanskin member like Berejiklian would not bat an eyelid — or check on the register — to see if Maguire was playing by the rules.
The irony is that Berejiklian’s pecuniary interest declarations are a model of political propriety.
Year in and year out, the MP-turned-minister-turned premier details the gifts she’s received and who gave them to her, the real estate she’s bought and sold, the mortgages she holds or doesn’t. Her excruciating honesty extends to providing the phone number of an organiser for a touring Israeli orchestra to verify, if needed, that it gave her two free tickets to the Opera House.
Elsewhere is the careful note that Emirates had given her an upgrade from economy to business class on a return trip from Italy that she had paid for.
At the same time her then beau, Maguire, was doing secret deals with nary a whisper on his parliamentary declaration. The closest he ever got was to declare in the year or so prior to his enforced departure in 2018 that he was an “honorary chairman” of two Chinese business and community organisations, with no declaration of the commissions he was paid.
A form of defence for Berejiklian is that she, as premier, showed Maguire the door and got him out of parliament, even though they were still in a relationship.
But the bottom line is that Berejiklian, as a senior Liberal, could have known back in 2014 that Maguire was a liar. But she didn’t check.
For the charitable, her lack of action can be explained by a judgement clouded by misplaced trust and affection. The less charitable view is that she of the hitherto unstained reputation failed the basic test of vigilance on parliamentary standards.
ICAC’s counsel assisting the commissioner Scott Robertson put it to Berejiklian yesterday that she chose not to know of Maguire’s money-making schemes and deceptions. She denied it, but the legacy of this inquiry is that Berejiklian might be just another compromised politician unable to provide ethical leadership.