It was a moment over two-and-a-half years in the making, and the findings of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption’s (ICAC) Operation Keppel investigation were as weighty as the two-volume and almost 700-page report.
Findings of “Serious corrupt conduct” were laid out against both former premier Gladys Berejiklian and disgraced Wagga MP Daryl Maguire.
Operation Keppel focussed on allegations that the former Wagga MP had breached public trust between 2012 and 2018 and used his role in parliament to benefit himself.
The enquiry was expanded to include Berejiklian after her “close personal relationship” with Maguire was revealed and grants awarded to his electorate were scrutinised.
Maguire quit the Liberal Party in August 2018, and Berejiklian resigned as premier and quit parliament in October 2021.
The ICAC report found that by not declaring the relationship and a potential conflict of interest, the former premier had “engaged in serious corrupt conduct by breaching public trust” in connection to grants allocated to two projects advocated by Maguire in Wagga.
In particular, her involvement with “funding promised and/or awarded to the Australian Clay Target Association (ACTA) without disclosing her close personal relationship with Mr Maguire when she was in a position of a conflict of interest between her public duty and her private interest which could objectively have the potential to influence the performance of her public duty.”
Similar findings were made in relation to “decisions concerning the Riverina Conservatorium of Music (RCM) proposal which she knew was advanced by Mr Maguire”.
Despite finding Berejiklian engaged in serious corrupt conduct, ICAC did not recommend prosecutors consider charges, citing “formidable” obstacles.
“Counsel Assisting submitted that the obstacles to a prosecution of Ms Berejiklian for misconduct in public office in relation to partial conduct or breach of public trust in relation to the ACTA and/or RCM proposals were so formidable as to make it reasonably clear that any advice from the DPP with respect to the matter would be to the effect that no prosecution may be commenced,” the report said.
In examining the $5.5 million grant awarded to the Australia Clay Target Association, it was noted that the funding was not initially supported and that Berejiklian, in her role as Treasurer, had intervened to move the project forward.
The commission ultimately concluded that “while it constitutes or involves a substantial breach of the ministerial code, is not so serious that it could be demonstrated to merit criminal punishment … and therefore does not reach the very high bar required to make out the offence of misconduct in public office”.
The former premier was found to have breached public trust again in 2018 by engaging in making decisions concerning the “transfer of land at 1 Simmons Street, Wagga Wagga, to provide a site for the RCM” and “making a funding reservation of $20 million in relation to RCM Stage 2” – a grant that was ultimately not delivered.
In a statement, RCM chair Dr Andrew Wallace asserted that the Conservatorium had never acted improperly throughout the relocation from the crumbling South Wagga CSU facility to the new government-owned facility in the CBD.
“While the RCM was mentioned in the [ICAC] hearings, it was not under investigation, nor was there any suggestion of impropriety in the way that the RCM worked in our community or with government,” he said, reiterating that none of the funding in question was given directly to the RCM.
“The redevelopment of the site was totally the responsibility of the NSW Government through Property NSW,” he said.
“It remains the property of the NSW Government and will be maintained by them into the future.”
For his part, Daryl Maguire may face criminal prosecution in the wake of the findings of serious corrupt conduct in advancing “his own financial interests and the commercial interests of his associates” in his dealings with developers and involvement in an alleged cash-for-visas scam.
“The Commission is of the opinion that consideration should be given to obtaining the advice of the DPP about the prosecution of Mr Maguire, G8wayInternational director Phillip Elliott and Maggie Wang, an associate of Mr Maguire, for various offences,” the report declared.
There were 18 recommendations to address “the codes of conduct that govern the conduct of MPs, improving their training and that of their staff, and improving the integrity of grant schemes”.
You can read the full report here.
Original Article published by Chris Roe on Region Riverina.