Gladys Berejiklian’s shame: ‘I feel used’
It was a dirty little secret.
A five-year relationship with a man dubbed "Dodgy Daryl" in NSW political circles long before his business dealings were revealed last week.
A former furniture salesman who would lock visiting ministers in his car so he could - as one said - "chew their ears off" on whatever was occupying his mind.
A man whom many in his electorate of Wagga Wagga had assumed was tied up with other love interests when Premier Gladys Berejiklian revealed it was her he was seeing - or, as she put it, engaged in a "close personal relationship".
Such was the secrecy around their "on again, off again" affair, not even the Premier's tight-knit family knew.
After telling her younger sister Mary on Monday, it was left up to her to relay the news on to their parents.
The bombshell not only floored Ms Berejiklian's closest ministerial colleagues, but raised immediate questions as to whether she can survive the scandal.
Can a Premier who staked her reputation on being astute, professional and - in her own words - "a goody-two-shoes" recover?
Or will her relationship with a disgraced ex-MP - which continued for two years after she sacked him following earlier corruption watchdog revelations, only to end in "August or September this year" - make her position untenable?
Those declaring her leadership terminal argue she has left the Coalition exposed; unable to call out corruption without being accused of a double standard.
How could an experienced factional operative accused at times of micromanaging never seek assurances of Maguire that he was not involved in anything untoward? Surely during those numerous late-night phone calls her political radar was sounding.
Was her judgment clouded or was it a case of plausible deniability, such as when she responded in one phone call: "I don't need to know about that bit."
Those in the Premier's inner circle say she feels "used" by Maguire, a man who was revealed to have charged "clients" an "introductory fee" to meet with politicians.
Who also requested a property developer friend write to the then-planning minister Anthony Roberts about his grievances and "cc (copy) the Premier", adding that he "will give it to her".
While many MPs were still trying to process what she saw in Maguire - "I'd have put him in the last one per cent of MPs I'd have thought she'd date," said one; "He was just annoying" said another - a source close to Ms Berejiklian said it came down to familiarity. There was no having to explain her job. The long hours. It was easy. A friend with benefits.
There were shared interests, such as Chinese culture. In a 2017 article on the online Guangdong news site, the Premier spoke of how she was learning Mandarin.
The source said Maguire's self-importance may have also allowed her to overcome any issues of self-esteem that still plagued her from her teenage years.
The Premier is understood to have told at least one of her confidantes, by way of explanation after the revelation, how Maguire was the first man in recent years to show a genuine interest in her.
"She is so private and proper," the source said. "He clearly built up her trust."
Another Liberal source claimed: "She wasn't allowed to date anyone that wasn't Armenian."
The pair had been friends for some time - Mr Maguire was already in parliament when Ms Berejiklian was elected as Willoughby MP in 2003 - before it turned into something more.
Just when the friendship exactly became a "close personal relationship" is a question to which ICAC sought an answer from Mr Maguire during a private hearing.
While the pair has stated the relationship started about 2015, a text message from February 2014 shows Mr Maguire referring to Ms Berejiklian by the Armenian term of endearment "hokis".
As for the secrecy, one senior Liberal close to Ms Berejiklian suggested the Premier herself knew deep down that many would disapprove.
"I would have told her what I thought," the Liberal said.
"I feel so sorry for her. But she'll get over it. She's one of the toughest people I know."
What has stunned many of her colleagues is how the relationship continued long after she sacked him.
After admitting she'd "stuffed up", the Premier quickly went on the offensive. She would be fighting on.
But, given the sheer scale of Maguire's alleged corruption - monetising his Macquarie Street job, hiding profits made as a silent director of a company involved in a cash-for-visa scheme, using his position to try to secure a $1.5 million debt-clearing land sale, fees to meet pollies - can the Premier convince her detractors that she remains a leader of integrity?
Former premier Mike Baird, one of Ms Berejiklian's closest friends, believes so.
"In all my dealings Gladys was always about what was the right thing to do," he said.
"I can't think of another example of someone in parliament where it was less about them and more about the people she was representing.
"For her, doing the right thing for NSW was everything."
One party official noted how the 2019 state election campaign pushed the line that Gladys was a woman who could "get it done".
"This remains the case," the official said. "Post-bushfires, post-COVID, that can still be said."
Another Liberal strategist suggested the Premier could expect a poll bounce.
"She made a poor choice in a partner, but it is clear she didn't engage with him in his business dealings," he said.
"She can absolutely recover. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if she had a poll bounce. When you have as much political capital in the bank as she has, people will forgive you."
It is true that Kevin Rudd's popularity surged after his visit to a strip club was exposed. As did Bill Clinton's in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky affair. But this is a lot more than just a tawdry love affair.
At its heart is a question of integrity. The public wants to know it can trust the person elected to the highest office.
This week a largely sympathetic public remained in the Premier's corner.
But as time goes by and the details of what the Premier knew - or chose to ignore - are dissected over dinner tables, voter sentiment could change.
Sure, Maguire shielded her from the details of his dealings so that he wouldn't put her in a "difficult" position. But was there also an understanding between the pair that the Premier would not be told of anything that could compromise her position?
Time will tell.
Her detractors - many in her own party - began hunting down any possible incriminating evidence within hours of her ICAC appearance to prove she did, in fact, know more.
Requests have been lodged in parliament for details of the Premier's and Maguire's travel to and from Wagga Wagga over the past five years. Minutes of meetings are being scrutinised. The hunt is on.
In the Premier's favour is that no one wants blood on their hands. Not Treasurer Dom Perrottet, her likely successor who would prefer his time to come later, nor Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean, who would be critical in delivering votes from the left, but who has vowed to support his factional ally and close friend "to the end".
Planning Minister Rob Stokes, Transport Minister Andrew Constance and Attorney-General Mark Speakman have all pledged loyalty.
So long as the parliamentary team remains behind her, she remains safe. But it's fair to say everyone is watching and waiting.
Prior to this week, many in the party had been hoping Ms Berejiklian would go around again to deliver one more election victory - and the Premier indicated herself on Friday that this would be the case.
But that may not be her decision.
Originally published as Gladys Berejiklian's shame: 'I feel used'