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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Berejiklian ICAC findings prompt strengthening of ministerial code of conduct

The NSW government has responded to two anti-corruption probes, including into former premier Gladys Berejiklian, by beefing up the ministerial code of conduct, forcing ministers to divulge the contents of previously opaque trusts and detail the interests of immediate family members.

Draft regulation drawn up by the Minns government has sought to address perceived shortcomings in the existing code of conduct, with the MPs’ code to explicitly articulate the “three guiding values of public trust, public interest and public duty”.

Former Premier Gladys Berejiklian and MP Daryl Maguire.

Former Premier Gladys Berejiklian and MP Daryl Maguire.Credit: Marija Ercegovac

The raft of changes came after two damning Independent Commission Against Corruption probes: the long-awaited Operation Keppel investigation into former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire which then considered Berejiklian, and the Operation Witney pursuit of Liberal Drummoyne MP John Sidoti.

The years-long investigations eventually resulted in ICAC separately recommending the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) pursue Maguire and Sidoti for criminal charges after the pair were found to have engaged in “serious corrupt conduct”. Charges have not been laid against either.

Berejiklian too was found to have engaged in “serious corrupt conduct” by being part of the Expenditure Review Committee that awarded $5.5 million to the Australian Clay Target Association (ACTA) without publicly disclosing her relationship with Maguire, who had been actively pushing for grants for the organisation.

Berejiklian too breached public trust through a $30 million promise to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music for a recital hall, of which only $10 million was ultimately paid, ICAC found.

NSW Premier Chris Minns said it was critical the expectations of ministers were made clear.

NSW Premier Chris Minns said it was critical the expectations of ministers were made clear.Credit: Jessica Hromas

Despite finding the former Liberal premier had breached public trust and been conflicted between her public duty and private interest, ICAC declined to ask the DPP for advice regarding her prosecution, finding the evidence available was not sufficient to prove to criminal standard, or beyond reasonable doubt.

The Operation Keppel report concluded: “The community may conclude that the applicable codes of conduct had little or no effect in discouraging the conduct of Mr Maguire and Ms Berejiklian identified in this report”.

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