Dutton insists Berejiklian is ‘not a corrupt person’

Luke Costin and Samantha Lock |

ICAC found Gladys Berejiklian acted corruptly while in a relationship with a fellow Liberal MP.
ICAC found Gladys Berejiklian acted corruptly while in a relationship with a fellow Liberal MP.

Australia’s most senior Liberal says ex-NSW premier Gladys Berejilkian is “not a corrupt person”, she just chose a “bum” of a boyfriend.

Federal opposition leader Peter Dutton launched a staunch defence of his former state counterpart a day after the NSW integrity watchdog found Ms Berejiklian acted corruptly while in a secret relationship with a fellow MP.

A 688-page Independent Commission Against Corruption report determined that she breached public trust by repeatedly failing to disclose her romance with Daryl Maguire while taking part in funding decisions for projects in his electorate.

But Mr Dutton said the findings did not reflect the “wonderful person” he knew, dismissing the years-long integrity probe as the result of a bad relationship.

“She chose a bum, basically, and he was a bad guy,” he told Nine’s Today show on Friday.

“For that, she has paid a big price. Her integrity is not in question. She’s not a corrupt person.”

NSW Liberal frontbencher and Berejiklian ally Matt Kean said he accepted the premier’s lack of disclosure was a breach of the ministerial code of conduct and therefore corrupt conduct under the ICAC act.

But the findings would not puncture his support of his former leader.

“I certainly believe Gladys and I continue to believe Gladys,” he told ABC TV.

NSW Labor leader Chris Minns told reporters on Friday the report had taken too long to come down.

“A couple of years after the public hearings for the final recommendations to be released is an inordinately long period of time, particularly for public officials,” he said.

He added that view was common among politicians of all stripes and his government would improve ICAC funding and timelines.

“We will look to work with parties in the NSW parliament about setting timelines for the ICAC when it comes to specific particular cases,” he said.

He said there were now mechanisms in place for the commission to access emergency funds if there was a case it believed was in the public interest that should be pursued.

The report made 18 recommendations seeking to address “systemic weaknesses” in the ministerial code of conduct, including explicitly addressing side hustles that formed the basis of the damning findings against Maguire.

It urged the NSW parliament to develop a comprehensive set of principles of conduct and descriptors to guide decision-making based on the values of public trust, public interest and public duty.

This required “detailed guidelines and clear processes to assist them to navigate ethical challenges involving conflicts of interest”, it said.

Griffith University public policy and law professor A J Brown said improper and unlawful conduct by MPs was a particular problem in NSW.

“The extent of the greyness of the principles and rules of parliamentarians having outside business and personal interests, giving rise to conflicts of interest, goes to the heart of this case,” he told AAP.

“In NSW, it has been regarded as acceptable.” 

Ms Berejiklian gave evidence to the inquiry that she believed she was not required to follow the ministerial code of conduct because a premier was not a minister.

Prof Brown said while Maguire had no sense of any boundary between holding office and his own interest, there were legitimate businesses MPs engaged with that compromised their ability to perform as elected officials.

The Transparency International Australia board member said MPs who moonlighted or held secondary employment would need a very good reason to do so.

“Too many parliamentarians don’t understand there is a dividing line once you take on the role.”

Ms Berejiklian is considering her legal options to challenge the ICAC findings, maintaining she has always worked in the public interest.