The public revelations of corruption from the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) over the last week make you wonder how much has really changed in NSW since the Rum Corps “Rebellion” of 1808.
For two years the corrupt colonial military corps, which had been involved in the rum trade, ran the government and continued their corrupt dealings in the rum trade and elsewhere.
The main change is the scale of corruption — which has now reached industrial proportions.
The ICAC hearings have lifted the lid on disgraced former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire’s dodgy “business” deals, and questions are being asked about whether his “close personal relationship” with Premier Gladys Berejiklian for five years allowed his alleged corruption to continue, or even expand.
Political corruption in NSW not only has a long history, it extends across both major parties: from Coalition premiers Bob Askin, in the 1960s-1970s, and Nick Greiner in the 1990s, to Labor MPs Eddie Obeid and Ian McDonald in the 2000s, to the former Coalition premier Barry O'Farrell, who resigned over an undeclared gift from a property developer — $3000 bottle of wine.
The formerly squeaky-clean Berejiklian does not look so shiny now. The accusation against her is not that she personally gained from Maguire’s corrupt actions or that she had a relationship with McGuire, but that she knowingly covered up for his alleged crimes.
From what ICAC has uncovered of phone conversations and the like, it is beyond credibility to believe her when she said she did not know that McGuire was seeking to enrich himself with side deals with developers, trading on access to her.
Given that McGuire faced an ICAC inquiry in 2018, after which Berejiklian sacked him from the ministry and the party, makes it her claim to not know anything even more incredible.
A series of intercepted phone calls between Berejiklian and Maguire played to ICAC on October 12 when the premier was being questioned about her knowledge of Maguire’s deals show they she knew about his corrupt receipt of commissions for property deals as far back as 2014.
In a text message that year, while she was treasurer, Maguire told her he had some “good news” — one of his contracts had sold for $5.8 million. “I had put her in contact, so I should make $5k.”
Berejiklian's reply was: “Congrats!!! Great news!! Woo hoo.”
A number of calls were replayed at ICAC, including one regarding the “Badgery’s Creek stuff”, in which McGuire spoke of his intervention with authorities to facilitate a property deal which would help him pay off his $1.5 million in personal debts.
Berejiklian replied: “I don't need to know about that”.
It is clear beyond doubt that that Berejiklian knew enough to know she should not completely know something. But she knew enough. She was covering for the corrupt operations of a former Liberal MP and a friend (significant, or otherwise).
Berejiklian narrowly survived a no-confidence motion moved in the Legislative Council on October 14 (the speaker’s deciding vote tipped it in her favour) and in the Legislative Assembly 38-47. Both were moved by the Labor opposition and supported by the Greens.
The motions focussed on her role in covering up for McGuire’s alleged corruption.
Berejeklian claimed to be “shocked” by McGuire’s conduct and said his actions “let down his constituents” and the people of NSW. But from her evidence to the ICAC on October 12, it was clear that she knew that McGuire was perusing a number of other similar commission payment arrangements with development proposals. She did not disclose this to anyone until she was summonsed to ICAC. She chose to keep it secret.
Apart from the ethical questions involved, she failed to adhere to the Ministerial Code of Conduct by concealing what she knew of Maguire's activities in seeking personal financial benefit using his position and role as an MP to do so. She said she broke off their relationship in August when she was asked to appear before ICAC.
Berejiklian's squeaky clean reputation has gone.
But her real crimes go a lot deeper than covering up for one shady scoundrel. She is the current leader of NSW Corruption Inc — a large-scale operation of the two parties to pillage public assets from the people and sell them off to their corporate mates.
Most recently, she showed her true colours rushing to the defence of treasurer Dominic Perrotet and his mismanagement of icare state-run workers’ compensation authority.
Some of what Perrottet described as the agency doing a “superb job” included: underpaying 52,000 sick and injured workers; allowing icare executives’ wages to soar from $600,000 to $18 million in four years; and attempting to cut payments for thousands of injured workers.
Berejeklian wants to privatise icare, which will make it even harder for injured workers to claim compensation.
Berejiklian’s privatisation spree took off from her predecessor Mike Baird and has included: the construction and sell-off (still continuing) of the environmental and transport disaster WestConnex; the privatisation of the bus network; and handing public rail to the privately owned Metro as a step towards the wholesale privatisation of Sydney Trains.
Public housing in Millers Point, Waterloo and elsewhere has been sold off and public land, including the Fish Market and heritage in Parramatta is being flogged to the highest bidder.
As the head of government, Berejiklian is in charge of the entire large-scale theft of public assets and services. For this crime against the people, she should be held accountable.
Unfortunately ICAC does not have the power to force her to stand down, as she should.
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