Liberal supporters celebrate the 2019 NSW state election result (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

“I loved him … but I’ll never speak to him again.”

And with that, News Corp turned Gladys Berejiklian’s secret five-year relationship (or is it six, or seven?) with crooked MP Daryl Maguire into a chick flick.

Not only that, but Berejiklian was willing to play along with a Sunday Telegraph treatment which hits all the messaging a premier would want while under siege.

But just how unlucky in love have the voters of NSW been? Let us count the ways in which the democratic process has been dudded.

Voters in the dark

Berejiklian entered the NSW election in March last year as a compromised candidate. Publicly she expressed her disappointment in Maguire after he admitted his role in a crooked real estate deal with a Sydney council. He quit parliament as a result. That was in mid-2018.

Yet Berejiklian chose not to let on to the electorate what we know now: that she knew Maguire was doing real estate deals with commissions attached all the way back to 2014.

Who knew what?

Apart from Berejiklian, one organisation had a very good idea of the premier’s compromised position: the NSW ICAC had telephone intercepts going back to at least September 2017 of her conversations with Maguire.

By July 2018, when it opened public hearings into the first Maguire corruption investigation, it appears the ICAC already had the bones of its case involving the premier and Maguire.

They had evidence that Maguire was heavily in debt, that he was working on deals with Chinese-owned businesses, that he was unethical and that he had constant access to the premier through their close personal relationship. Maguire, in short, had the classic profile of a security risk — where the risk was not so much what he told the premier as what the premier was telling him.

Berejiklian has dismissed the potential risk posed by Maguire’s connections to China as “complete rubbish”.

One unanswered question is whether or not ICAC also dismissed the security risk out of hand, or if it passed on its information to ASIO.

Security clearances

Berejiklian has asserted that “as the premier of [this] state, I pass security clearances that nobody else has to pass.”

But has she been candid when it comes to the question of her close, long-term relationship with Maguire? Before being booted out, Maguire had planned to retire from politics at the last election so the two could go public with their relationship.

Faced with the standard high-level security clearance question “do you have a partner?”, what might Berejiklian have answered?

According to her evidence at ICAC last week, the premier had told no-one of the relationship.

Berejiklian’s role in maintaining and promoting the Liberal brand has been critical for the party. Just ask Scott Morrison, who faced a looming electoral wipeout at the beginning of 2019 — only to be buoyed by a solid Berejiklian-led victory in March of that year.

Berejiklian, in short, has provided a gloss of propriety on an otherwise tawdry outfit. It’s little wonder that Morrison and the government’s News Corp backers would rather people look the other way on the serious questions of transparency and accountability that the Berejiklian case raises.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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