John Barilaro “would have done everything differently” when dealing with grants pushed by Gladys Berejiklian’s “pain in the arse” secret boyfriend if he’d known about the relationship, the former deputy premier has told the state’s corruption watchdog.
The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption is investigating whether Ms Berejiklian breached public trust when she supported projects championed by former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire, with whom she was in a clandestine relationship.
A major focus of the probe, now in its second week of public hearings, has been a $5.5 million upgrade to the Wagga Wagga Clay Target Club.
Mr Barilaro – who was the minister responsible for the fund from which the money was drawn – on Monday told ICAC that with experience he’d realised the process that secured the grant was “unusual”.
The project was given priority and was one of a handful that was not dealt with through a competitive process, as it had been directly approved by the Expenditure Review Committee chaired by then-treasurer Berejiklian, he said.
The project was originally pitched to the ERC in December 2016 without a clear source of funding and was a stand-alone item on the agenda despite being worth much less than the proposals usually considered by the committee.
The “expediency” of the process was also uncommon, he said, echoing evidence given by bureaucrats last week.
Mr Barilaro said the project’s existence on the agenda, given it was controlled by Ms Berejiklian, gave it “political imprimatur” and would have been a significant factor in winning support for the initiative from within the committee.
He said Ms Berejiklian also showed her interest in the project by asking him for updates once it was approved.
So did Mr Maguire, who Mr Barilaro described as a “pain in the arse” and a “dog with a bone” in his advocacy for projects in his electorate.
Mr Barilaro said he had no clue the pair were in a relationship.
If he – or anyone else – had known, the proposal would have been handled in different way, he said.
“(We) would have done everything differently,” he said.
“The way that the item would have been debated, who would have been in attendance … (there would have been) another approach in dealing with what would be a perceived conflict of interest.”
Mr Barilaro said he believed the project had been funded appropriately but a declaration of a conflict of interest from Ms Berejiklian would have protected her ERC colleagues from any allegations they acted improperly.
“I in one way could argue that I had a conflict of interest if I had known that there was a relationship,” Mr Barilaro said, given his personal friendship with the former premier.
“There is a ripple effect of conflicts that we would have had to manage.”
Ms Berejiklian had plenty of opportunity to declare any conflict.
“Agenda item one is always the declaration of any conflicts of interest,” he said.
But Ms Berejiklian’s lawyer attempted to turn the microscope on Mr Barilaro’s personal life during the public hearing, asking him three times if he had declared all his intimate relationships since entering parliament in 2011.
“I would have,” said Mr Barilaro, who recently separated from his wife of 26 years.
Asked again, he said: “That’s a hard question because my relations are with my family.”
Ms Berejiklian and Mr Maguire will give evidence this week after a raft of current and former politicians and public servants faced public hearings last week.
Ms Berejiklian stepped down as premier on October 1, when ICAC announced it would be holding the public hearings examining her conduct. She denies any wrongdoing.