‘Devastated’ Baird’s evidence builds case against Berejiklian

A chain of emails he sent in early December captured his concerns, expressed in typically blunt fashion. Referencing the 1983 film Risky Business and its devil-may-care protagonist, played by Tom Cruise, Blunden headed one memo “As Joel Goodsen would say, sometimes you gotta say WTF”.

The emails reveal he’d tried to get the item taken off the ERC agenda but “Daryl fired up and Gladys wanted it put back on”.

“Gladys and Ayres want it” he wrote to Baird. “No doubt they’re [sic] done a sweetheart deal with Daryl but this goes against all of the principles of sound economic management”.

He advised Baird the proposal should not be approved without stringent new conditions including a properly constructed business case and benefit to cost analysis – (ultimately what the ERC decided).

On Wednesday, Baird told the commission he recalled nothing “untoward” about the discussion of the proposal inside ERC when it came before him and senior ministers on December 14, 2016.

He didn’t read too much into Blunden’s reference to a “sweetheart deal” other than that Maguire was someone who “relentlessly pursued” his own agenda, that he’d wanted this done, and “they (Berejiklian and Ayres) have supported it”.

But Berejiklian had not declared a potential conflict of interest. She should have as a matter of “good practice”, of “executing public function in the context of potential private interest” he told the commission.

Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian outside her Northbridge office on Wednesday.

Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian outside her Northbridge office on Wednesday.Credit:Janie Barrett

Had she done so, it could have been handled in one of two ways. If the disclosure of the relationship had been made some time earlier, there was a capacity to “manage” the potential conflict by ensuring she didn’t take part in the discussion.

Alternately, if it had been revealed at the meeting, she should have been excluded.

Blunden said if he’d known of Berejiklian’s secret affair, he would have sought advice from “somebody”, most likely in the premier’s department, about a conflict of interest risk.

He was even more forthright when secretly interviewed by the ICAC’s counsel assisting, Scott Robertson, earlier this year, telling the lawyer “it’s a no-brainer that there was a perceived conflict”.

Baird and Blunden said on Wednesday they’d never seen evidence of Berejiklian acting towards Maguire in a “partial” or “biased” way.

Berejiklian has always insisted she has acted with integrity, and her relationship was not of “sufficient status” to warrant her revealing it to her colleagues or the world.

That assessment – of the significance of her relations with Maguire – has now been shot down by her former leader, and by Baird’s then right-hand man, Blunden, whose political antennae were the best in the government.

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The pain it has caused Baird to deliver testimony adverse to the woman he still regards as a friend was evident in his comments to reporters later. “I’m devastated to be here” he said; “I think she has the highest integrity,” and had a “real commitment to public service and public life”.

In private, there is said to be anger, too, at what this has cost the government. Ayres, who is not a target of the inquiry, will give evidence on Friday. We won’t learn of Berejiklian’s version of events – or her reaction to the judgment of her former mentor – until next week.

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