The New South Wales Upper House has referred Premier Glady Berejiklian to the state’s corruption watchdog, which is already investigating the business dealings of her former partner Daryl Maguire.
Conflict of Interest
The motion asserts that the NSW Premier failed to declare a conflict of interest when dealing with road upgrades.
In that regard, there are concerns that Ms Berejiklian met with Mr Maguire about an upgrade to a road more than 100km from his Wagga Wagga electorate, which runs past two investment properties he hoped to use as short-term rental accommodation.
It also alleges the Premier failed to disclose a conflict of interest when planning the M9 Outer Sydney Orbital; a project in relation to which Mr Maguire stood to obtain a financial benefit from.
“Mr Maguire stood to profit from both the upgrade of the Cobb Highway and from knowledge of the M9’s route. He was the premier’s partner at the time,” Labor leader in the Upper House Adam Searle said
ICAC investigation already underway
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is currently investigating, for the second time, the business dealings of Mr Maguire while he was the MP of Wagga Wagga.
Ms Berejiklian was referred to ICAC late last year when she revealed for the first time that she had been in a secret “close personal relationship” with Mr Maguire for several years.
In October, ICAC played numerous telephone conversations intercepted between the pair during which Mr Maguire discussed at length his financial situation and business endeavours.
Many believe that these indicate the Premier was aware of – or at least wilfully blind to – her partner, who was also a party colleague at the time, potentially misusing a position of public office, and yet did nothing about it.
Ms Berejiklian has repeatedly denied any knowledge of Mr Maguire’s business dealings and he too has told ICAC that he tried to keep them separate from her.
But what became clear during the week-long hearings was that the Premier had deliberately kept her relationship with Mr Maguire a secret over a period of many years, only ending it when it became clear she would need to give evidence to ICAC. She claimed at the time this was because “she is a very private person.”
ICAC has not directly accused the Premier of corruption.
Ms Berejiklian’s reputation and integrity have been called into question on numerous occasions in recent months as her Government has faced a string of allegations.
A Parliamentary inquiry into the Integrity, Efficacy and Value for Money of NSW Government Grant Programs heard that the Premier approved a $20 million grant in Wagga Wagga without going through the required approval process.
The grant was announced during the Wagga Wagga by-election that was sparked by the resignation of Daryl Maguire in 2018, after he admitted to an earlier ICAC investigation that he sought payment over a property deal.
Shredding documents and pork barrelling
The Premier’s Office was found to have acted illegally when it shredded documents relating to the allocation of more than $250 million grants, although no one will be prosecuted, and her Government has been accused of ‘pork barrelling’; that is, using government funds for projects designed to please voters or legislators and win votes.
Pork barrelling is not a crime in and of itself, but is considered to be a highly unethical use of taxpayer funds and can become an offence in the event a financial benefit is gained.
Resignation of minister
More recently, ICAC announced that it will conduct a public inquiry into whether NSW MP John Sidoti “improperly influenced another person, or persons, to dishonestly or partially exercise any of their official functions” in relation to development controls and rezoning of several blocks of land at Five Dock. Mr Sidoti has since resigned.
Many New South Wales voters are wondering just how long Ms Berejiklian can remain the Premier while these issues continue to plague her Government and undermine the confidence placed in her leadership by the residents of New South Wales.
Can a conflict of interest amount to corruption?
ICAC defines a conflict of interest as, “… when a reasonable person might perceive that a public official’s personal interest(s) could be favoured over their public duties”.
There are four main questions to be asked when determining whether a conflict of interest exists.
- Does the official have a personal interest?
- Does the official have a public duty?
- Is there a connection between the personal interest and the public duty?
- Could a reasonable person perceive that the personal interest might be favoured?
Conflicts of interest do not, in themselves, constitute corrupt conduct under section 7 of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988 (NSW). However, failing to act appropriately when faced with a conflict can certainly amount to corrupt conduct.
Examples of conduct that could amount to corrupt conduct include:
- Concealing or failing to disclose a conflict of interest,
- Making false or understated declarations about a conflict of interest,
- Favouring a personal interest over public duty,
- Improperly influencing others to favour a personal interest, or
- Misusing resources in order to favour a personal interest.
In fact, there have been many instances whereby the failure to appropriately deal with a conflict of interest has been found to constitute corruption.
Whether Ms Berejiklian can survive the many recent corruptions scandals she has been associated with remains to be seen.