Gladys Berejiklian faces fresh questions about Wagga meeting with two convicted criminals

The NSW premier is under pressure to explain if her relationship with Daryl Maguire was behind the meeting on ‘gaming issues’

New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian

Gladys Berejiklian has been criticised for a meeting reportedly brokered by Daryl Maguire with two publicans with criminal records in Wagga Wagga.
Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Gladys Berejiklian is under pressure to explain if her relationship with the disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire was behind a decision to meet with two convicted criminals to discuss “gaming issues” while in Wagga Wagga.

The embattled New South Wales premier faced public criticism in 2018 when it was revealed she had privately met with two publicans with criminal records to hear their concerns about the state’s gaming policy.

Maguire reportedly brokered the meeting while Berejiklian was in his electorate on 31 October 2017, during what she later described as a “visit to the Riverina community”.

The meeting prompted condemnation from Labor, who questioned the premier’s judgment and the extent to which she had vetted the two men. She was also grilled over why she retained confidence in Maguire, given the compromised position he had put her in.

“Why did the premier retain Daryl Maguire as a parliamentary secretary even after he arranged for her to meet convicted criminals Gino Scutti and Nicholas Tinning?” the then opposition leader Luke Foley asked in parliament in August 2018.

On Monday, the shadow attorney general, Paul Lynch, said the new evidence about Berejiklian and Maguire’s relationship, which was ongoing when she met with the two men, cast her decision in a new light.

“When we raised this issue in 2018 we wanted to know whether the premier knew of the backgrounds of individuals with whom she met,” Lynch told Guardian Australia.

“What we’ve heard recently may explain any lack of proper caution about who the premier met.”

Scutti was “convicted of damaging property by fire and publishing false material to obtain financial advantage after he burnt down his hotel”, parliament heard, while Tinning was convicted in 2017 of illegal possession of poker machines.

Berejiklian’s office did not answer a series of questions about the meeting, instead referring the Guardian back to her comments to NSW state parliament on 8 February 2018.

Berejiklian initially said in that parliamentary sitting she could not recall the meeting, but later in the same session said that the pair were “country hotel lessors” who had complaints about the gaming policy of the former Labor government.

“I was asked some questions about a meeting that I had on a recent visit to the Riverina community,” Berejiklian said at the time.

“I met with people I had not met before. They raised with me concerns about country hotel lessors. They felt they had been disadvantaged by amendments to the relevant legislation passed by the previous Labor government.”

Berejiklian said at the time she had promised to take up their concerns with the relevant minister.

“When members of the community ask to meet with me when I am making regional visits, especially those in country NSW, I will meet with them,” she said. “On that occasion they explained to me the hardship their families had faced in relation to changes in laws.”

Berejiklian has pledged to stay on as premier, despite conceding she “stuffed up” by maintaining a secret relationship with Maguire from around the 2015 state election.

Maguire left NSW parliament in disgrace in mid-2018, following evidence to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (Icac) that he had brokered property deals for personal benefit while a sitting MP.

Berejiklian continued the relationship even after Maguire had left parliament, telling Icac on Monday that she had only broken off contact with him in September.

She faced a second day of sustained pressure on Tuesday, when the state opposition used question time to move a no-confidence motion.

The motion alleged that she “turned a blind eye to corruption in her government by failing to report her knowledge of Daryl Maguire’s business dealings for six and a half years, even after his resignation from parliament in July 2018”.

It also said Berejiklian had failed to report discussions with Maguire about his outside business dealings, despite having congratulated him on the amount of commission he was earning from such deals.