They tackled the black summer bushfires together and now Gladys Berejiklian has turned to an old friend as she faces a new crisis.
The former NSW premier was pictured having coffee with respected former Rural Fire Service head Shane Fitzsimmons and his wife Lisa in Sydney on Monday – while just a few hundred metres away the Independent Commission Against Corruption prepared to hear evidence from her from former deputy premier John Barilaro.
Ms Berejiklian struck up a strong bond with Mr Fitzsimmons during Sydney’s ‘summer from hell’ in 2019-2020 and made time for a coffee with a mate as the ICAC probe that saw her resign as premier entered a second week.
After an explosive first week of evidence, the Independent Commission Against Corruption has begun the second week of its investigation into Ms Berejiklian, who will be called to give evidence later this week.
Peter Minucos, a former adviser to the ex-deputy premier John Barilaro, is giving evidence and will be followed by former Nationals leader and Deputy Premier Mr Barilaro himself.
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured right) has coffee on Monday morning with former Rural Fire Service head Shane Fitzsimmons (with back to camera) and his wife Lisa in Sydney’s Strand Arcade
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian leaves her house on Sydney’s leafy north shore on Monday morning
The ICAC is investigating if Ms Berejiklian was ‘liable to allow or encourage the occurrence of corrupt conduct’ by former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, with whom she was in a ‘close personal relationship’ between 2015 and 2018.
It’s also looking into whether she ‘exercised her official functions dishonestly or partially’ by not reporting any reasonable suspicions about Mr Maguire to the ICAC.
As the inquiry gets closer to Ms Berejiklian’s public testimony, which is set to begin on Thursday, the stakes get higher.
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured left) will give evidence to the ICAC on Thursday and Friday
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured left) has coffee on Monday morning with former Rural Fire Service head Shane Fitzsimmons (right) and his wife Lisa (with her back to camera)
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured right) on Monday morning in Sydney with former Rural Fire Service head Shane Fitzsimmons (with back to camera) and his wife Lisa
Public servant Chris Hanger told the ICAC last Thursday that Mr Minucos was a key figure in developing a business case for the a facilities upgrade at the Australia Clay Target Association (ACTA).
ACTA is located in Mr Maguire’s former electorate of Wagga Wagga and he was a keen backer of it getting state funding of $5.5million.
Ms Berejiklian’s relationship with Mr Maguire was a closely guarded secret at the time, and was not disclosed to her colleagues in her then positions of treasurer, initially, followed by becoming premier upon the resignation of Mike Baird in January 2017.
On Monday morning, Mr Minucos was asked by ICAC counsel Scott Robertson if he understood the money for ACTA was guaranteed by January 2017, or contingent on that business case.
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured centre) deep in conversation with former Rural Fire Service head Shane Fitzsimmons (right) and his wife Lisa (centre)
Gladys Berejiklian walks to a coffee date in Sydney’s CBD on Monday morning
Peter Minucos at the Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing in Sydney on Monday. The ICAC’s Operation Keppel is holding hearings into whether former premier Gladys Berejiklian breached public trust
He said it was a ‘bit of both’ and it was a ‘fine line in my mind at the time’.
The funds were to come from Restart NSW, which required a business to cost (BCR) ratio above one to be demonstrated for the funds to be paid.
Last week, Mr Hanger said Mr Minucos was the ‘key contact’ and was ‘heavily involved in the development of the (ACTA) project, in particular the advice back to the consultants … in regards to an addendum to the original business case’.
Neither Mr Minucos nor Mr Barilaro are accused of wrongdoing.
Former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro (left) arrives at the Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing in Sydney on Monday
Mr Robertson asked if it was ‘unusual to have someone in a ministerial office involved in procuring a business case as an addendum to a business case?’
‘It’s peculiar for them to be involved in advice around that in the way Mr Minucos did,’ Mr Hanger answered.
Mr Robertson asked: ‘As a longtime public servant with responsibility for procurement of infrastructure, did you regard it as inappropriate that there was the kind of advice … provided at the political level rather than the agency or departmental level?’
‘We indicated that it wasn’t … where or how they should be providing advice,’ Mr Hanger said, adding that this view was expressed to Mr Barilaro’s office.
Mr Hanger then worked for a regional NSW agency which sat under the Department of Premier and Cabinet and whose relevant minister was Mr Barilaro.
Last week’s evidence was at times excruciating, not least for the former premier, who again saw her private and public life scrutinised in minute detail.
Most galling of all for the former premier, is that none of this was necessary.
If she had declared there was a potential conflict of interest in her relationship with Mr Maguire, she could have recused herself from funding meetings concerning projects of interest to him.
She had previously declared that two of her cousins worked for the NSW public service and also disclosed meeting someone at a function.
Declaring a potential conflict of interest was also something the then state premier Mike Baird expected and called for at every cabinet meeting, as ICAC heard last week.
ICAC assisting counsel Scott Robertson will question former NSW National Party leader John Barilaro
Ms Berejiklian first appeared before ICAC more than a year ago.
On Monday, October 12, 2020, she told an inquiry into Mr Maguire that she had been in a secret ‘close personal relationship’ with him for years.
A tapped phone call entered into evidence that day featured the pair discussing a business deal.
‘I don’t need to know about that bit,’ the then premier of NSW said to her then partner.
She announced on October 1 2021 that she was resigning as NSW premier because she herself was being investigated by ICAC.
Ms Berejiklian had known for at least two weeks that was the case, as ICAC had already interviewed her.
In an excruciating 22 second clip played entered into evidence last week she was asked if she had suspicions that her former boyfriend, Mr Maguire may have been involved in corrupt behaviour.
‘I was in shock, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t have enough detail. I hadn’t read what was happening. I can’t remember what I thought at that time,’ she said.
Mr Robertson pressed her, saying ‘I’m not asking what you knew, I’m asking whether at the time you asked for Mr Maguire’s resignation you suspected that he may have been engaged in corrupt conduct?’
‘I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t know. I wasn’t, I wasn’t sure,’ Ms Berejiklian replied in the recording of an interview from September 18.
That term Mr Robertson used – suspected – is important. The ICAC Act holds that leaders must report ‘suspicion’ of possible corrupt behaviour straight away.
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian is being investigated by the Independent Committee Against Corruption in Sydney
Last Tuesday, the now infamous ‘WTF’ memo was presented at ICAC.
On December 12, 2016, Nigel Blunden sent a memo sent to his boss, the then premier Mike Baird, sarcastically referring to the proposed ‘Maguire international shooting centre of excellence.’
‘As Joel Goodson (the character Tom Cruise played in the 1983 film Risky Business) would say, sometimes you have to say WTF,’ Mr Blunden said.
In the recommendation section of his memo, Mr Blunden wrote ‘Oppose. Gladys and (Stuart) Ayres want it. No doubt they’ve done a sweetheart deal with Daryl, but this goes against all of the principles of sound economic management.’
The explosive memo that has rocked the ICAC inquiry into former premier Gladys Berejiklian
Gladys Berejiklian’s former secret boyfriend Daryl Maguire will give evidence to ICAC on Wednesday
On Friday, the NSW Trade and Industry Minister Stuart Ayres was grilled by Mr Robertson about the ‘WTF’ memo, which mentioned him. He replied that he didn’t ‘recall having any interactions with (Ms Berejiklian)’, on the issue.
Sophie Callan, who is representing Ms Berejiklian at the ICAC, asked Mr Ayres if the statement about a ‘sweetheart deal’ was speculative.
‘Fantasy would be a good word,’ Mr Ayres replied.
The memo was written two days before government’s expenditure review committee – which was headed by Ms Berejiklian – considered the proposal and ultimately gave the association $5.5 million.
But this paled in comparison to what came next – her political ally and close friend Mike Baird’s appearance.
Mr Baird said the first he heard of Ms Berejiklian and Mr Maguire’s relationship was ‘when it was revealed here (at ICAC) about a year ago,’ he said, adding that he was ‘incredulous’ when he heard it.
‘Certainly I think (the relationship) should have been disclosed … to myself as the premier’ and that it was a ‘potential conflict of interest,’ he said.
Mr Baird also said that Mr Maguire was ‘at times aggressive and at times abusive to members of staff and public servants’.
Ms Berejiklian has repeatedly and strenuously denied all wrongdoing.
Mike Baird (pictured right) and Gladys Berejiklian (left) were very close political allies and friends
The Australian Clay Target Association is part of an ICAC inquiry into former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian
The revelation of former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian’s (pictured left) secret relationship with Daryl Maguire (right) left another former premier, Mike Baird ‘incredulous’
Gladys Berejiklian (pictured right) is under investigation by ICAC for her conduct while NSW premier in relation to her former boyfriend, ex-MP Daryl Maguire (pictured left)