Berejiklian ICAC hearings set to begin weeks after shock resignation

Asia's Tech News Daily

Two weeks since her sudden resignation as premier and a year after she first revealed her years-long secret relationship with a disgraced former MP, a corruption inquiry is this week set to examine whether Gladys Berejiklian breached the trust of the NSW public.

Former premier Mike Baird and senior minister Stuart Ayres are scheduled to front Independent Commission Against Corruption hearings this week, along with a cavalcade of former NSW bureaucrats and government advisers.

Central to the corruption watchdog’s investigation is $35 million worth of NSW government grants issued to the electorate of Wagga Wagga, where Ms Berejiklian’s undisclosed boyfriend Daryl Maguire was the local Liberal MP.

The ICAC will examine whether she breached the public trust or encouraged corrupt conduct during her five-year relationship with Mr Maguire, zeroing in on $5 million issued to the Australian Clay Target Association in 2016-17 and a $30 million hand-out to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Wagga Wagga in 2018.

A list of bureaucrats from the Office of Sport and Regional NSW on the ICAC witness list indicates the first week of hearings could deal with the allocation of funding to the two organisations, as well as the government processes behind grant programs.

First to front the ICAC on Monday is likely to be NSW Office of Sport director Michael Toohey, who was a director of project delivery for the Department of Premier and Cabinet between 2009 and 2018.

NSW Rugby Union chief executive Paul Doorn, who served as an executive director within the Office of Sport between 2015 and 2017, is listed to appear on Tuesday, while Nigel Blunden, a former strategy director to Mr Baird is slated to appear on Wednesday.

Video: Gladys Berejiklian ‘had to resign’ amid ICAC investigation (Sky News Australia)

Mr Blunden, a former television reporter and federal government staffer, worked in the NSW premier’s office between 2014 and 2017 and is head of government affairs at HammondCare, where Mr Baird is chief executive. He was this year hired to work on the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Mr Baird, the predecessor of Ms Berejiklian, is scheduled to appear before the inquiry on Wednesday, while Mr Ayres – the former sports minister and now Jobs Minister – is set to give evidence on Friday. Ms Berejiklian is not scheduled to provide evidence on Friday, though the hearing will run for a second week.

Gary Barnes, secretary of Regional NSW, and Chris Hanger, who was an Office of Regional Development director between 2013 and 2016, and the director of funding and infrastructure between 2016 and 2017, are also likely to give evidence.

The confirmation of the inquiry into Ms Berejiklian’s dealings prompted her immediate resignation as the state’s 45th premier, as well as her exit from State Parliament altogether.

Announcing her resignation on October 1, Ms Berejiklian insisted she had always acted with the “highest level of integrity” and said history would show she had worked only “for the benefit of the people of NSW”.

Ms Berejiklian has previously insisted she did not approve the $30 million conservatorium grant despite written confirmation of funding for the project being sent on her letterhead, and in August said all proper processes were followed when asked about the gun club at a press conference.

Premier Dominic Perrottet on Sunday did not confirm whether he would appear before the ICAC, but said he did not believe the public inquiry would distract his government.

“Whilst the media might have an interest, my government is completely focused on the people of our state,” he said.

Mr Maguire was forced to quit NSW Parliament in July 2018 after a corruption inquiry exposed his attempts to broker property deals and seek commission on behalf of a Chinese developer.

The ICAC last year heard from two Wagga Wagga businessmen who had accepted cash kickbacks of $30,000 to falsely employ Chinese nationals for three months as part of the visa scheme orchestrated in part by Mr Maguire.

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