We’ve all had a lapse of judgment in our personal lives, and former Labor leader Bill Shorten has empathised with Gladys Berejiklian’s freshly exposed relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire.
During a Tuesday interview on the ‘Today’ show, Shorten said of the NSW premier: “She’s a smart lady who I think has been punching below her weight with perhaps a much more average guy. I have sympathy for Gladys at the human level.”
“Bill, you have summed it up perfectly. Everyone in Australia wanted to say it,” responded ‘Today’ host Karl Stefanovic.
Many online shared Shorten’s stance on Berejiklian’s dud boyfriend excuse, but critics have questioned whether a politician can really be ignorant of someone’s misconduct when they’re in a close personal relationship with them.
On Monday Berejiklian told a corruption inquiry that she had had a secret “close personal relationship” with Maguire, the former Member for Wagga Wagga, who’s under investigation for monetising his position through business dealings with China.
She revealed the relationship to the NSW Independent Commission into Corruption (ICAC), prompting calls from Labor for her resignation.
NSW opposition leader Jodi McKay said it was time to “forget” Berejiklian’s personal relationship with Maguire.
“Integrity doesn’t matter to this Premier and she expects simply by saying, ‘I stuffed up and I was in a bad relationship’ that people won’t look at what she was doing,” she told ABC’s News Breakfast on Tuesday.
“Well, we will look at it and going to pursue it because she should not be Premier of New South Wales. Many people have been in bad relationships, but you don’t use that as an excuse for not doing the right thing. She hasn’t done the right thing. She has been complicit in the corruption.”
Addressing media after the hearing, Berejiklian said she had “made a mistake in my personal life” with a relationship she did not even disclose to her family or closest friends, but would continue to serve as premier because she had “not done anything wrong”.
“People may have tried to influence me... but they failed,” she said.
Berejiklian had earlier told the ICAC she was “beyond shocked, disgusted” by evidence put before the inquiry that the former MP for the town of Wagga Wagga, Maguire, was allegedly involved in a “cash for visas scheme” for Chinese nationals involving falsified employment.
Maguire was forced to resign from the NSW Parliament, and his position as chairman of the NSW Parliament Asia Pacific Friendship Group, after a 2018 investigation heard he had sought to act for Chinese property developers in land deals.
Berejiklian said she had been in a relationship with Maguire since 2015, and had once called him her “numero uno”, but demanded Maguire’s resignation after the 2018 ICAC revelations.
She said she ceased contact with him in September 2020 after being privately interviewed by corruption investigators.
A new ICAC inquiry is investigating Maguire’s pursuit of business deals between 2012 and 2018 which commonly involved an “association with China”.
ICAC telephone intercepts played to the inquiry showed Maguire discussed his financial problems, including debts of $1.5 million, with Berejiklian, as well as the potential for him to gain financially from an airport land deal.
Maguire wanted to resolve his debts before resigning from politics at the 2019 election, the inquiry heard.
If Maguire left politics, Berejiklian would have been willing to make their relationship public, she recalled.
She told the inquiry she was “an independent woman with my own finances”, adding she would “never turn a blind eye” to inappropriate behaviour.
“I am very clear of my public responsibilities and the distinction between my private life and public responsibilities.”
The inquiry was played a September 2017 telephone intercept where Maguire talks about concluding a land deal, and Berejiklian responds, “I don’t need to know about that bit”.
Berejiklian said Maguire was “a big talker” and she would often dismiss his talk of deals as fanciful.
Maguire boasted in one telephone intercept that he had met Chinese President Xi Jinping, an encounter which Berejiklian explained to the inquiry was among a group of 15 NSW politicians who lined up to greet Xi on his visit to Sydney in 2014.
In 2017, Maguire wrote to the board of China’s biggest food producers, Bright Foods, to complain a delay in a deal with an Australian agribusiness UWE was “causing loss of face for my political leaders”.
Berejiklian said she had no knowledge of the letter and it was “highly inappropriate”.
Maguire had sought to join a NSW government trade delegation to China in 2017 to lobby for the project, but had been rebuffed by Berejiklian’s office, and told the delay would be raised in meetings.
With additional reporting by Reuters.
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