This week ICAC continues its unfolding investigations of former premier Gladys Berejiklian and former MP Daryl Maguire during their secret five-year relationship. Much attention has been given to a memo penned by political strategist Nigel Blunden.
The 2016 memo addressed to former premier Mike Baird advised that he should oppose the now-controversial $5.5 million grant proposal pushed by Maguire for the Australian Clay Target Association.
According to findings from the ICAC hearings, Blunden said there was “no doubt” Berejiklian had done a “sweetheart deal” with Maguire. Blunden also referenced the 1983 film Risky Business in his memo.
“As Joel Goodson famously said, sometimes you gotta say WTF,” wrote Blunden.
Deputy leader of the NSW Liberals and former Minister of Sport Stuart Ayres also gave evidence at the end of last week. Ayres approved $40,000 to fund the business case for Maguire’s proposed project in 2016.
Ayres testified that he believed the proposal “had a lot of merit”.
“I was not at all concerned and even upon reflection, I can’t see where Gladys Berejiklian or Daryl Maguire, subsequently knowing they were in a relationship, derived any private benefit from this project,” said Ayres.
However, Ayres did say he “would have been concerned” had he been aware of the secret relationship between Berejiklian and Maguire.
“I think we also have a responsibility to manage the perception around conflicts and so I would have raised with [Berejiklian] whether that needed to take place,” Ayres explained during the hearing. Ayres is not accused of any wrongdoing.
Office of Sport bureaucrat Michael Toohey says, contrary to Ayres’ statements, the business case for the grant was “deficient” and “didn’t stack up”.
“I can’t see that’s anything but a conflict of interest,” said Toohey, recalling the “urgency” around the proposal. Toohey also said, had he known about the relationship between Berejiklian and Maguire, it would have been a “red flag”.
Former premier Mike Baird was uneasy about his role in the ICAC hearings.
“I am devastated to be here giving evidence,” said Baird, who undertook the role of NSW Premier from 2014 to 2017.
“Gladys is a close personal friend… I think she has the highest integrity,” Baird explained.
However, Baird was not privy to the relationship between Berejiklian and Maguire until it was disclosed in 2020. Baird said he was “incredulous” to learn of the relationship and believes it “certainly” should have been disclosed.
Berejiklian is set to be the final witness at the ICAC hearings this coming Thursday and Friday.