New South Wales ministers and parliamentary secretaries will be banned from taking commissions on property deals after the Daryl Maguire scandal that is threatening to end the premiership of Gladys Berejiklian.
Draft legislation to ban commissions, proposed by the Labor opposition, passed the state’s lower house on Tuesday with the support of the Coalition government.
It now looks set to pass the upper house to become law. Labor has also flagged extending the prohibition to all MPs in a separate bill.
The premier on Tuesday faced another day of questions regarding what she knew about the property dealings of Maguire, the former member for Wagga Wagga, with whom Berejiklian had a five-year “close personal relationship”.
In question time, the Liberal leader was again asked about a Chinese company, Country Garden, which paid a commission to Maguire for a property deal involving the sale of a motel.
In text messages from 2014, Maguire wrote “Hawkiss, good news” and then “Good News. One of my contacts sold a motel for 5.8 million. I have put her in contact, so I should make five K.” Hawkiss is an Armenian word meaning “beloved.”
Berejiklian replied: “Congrats!!! Great news!! Woo-hoo.”
The opposition leader, Jodi McKay, said the exchange – revealed during an anti-watchdog inquiry into Maguire’s dealings – showed the premier knew he was getting commissions on property deals and approved of the conduct.
A curt Berejiklian said on Tuesday she had already addressed the question.
“We should allow the integrity commission to do their work and, as premier, I will do what the people of NSW want me to do,” she said, pointing to her record on managing the state’s Covid-19 outbreaks and keeping case numbers low.
The proposed ban on ministers and parliamentary secretaries taking commissions from property developers was supported by both parties after it became clear the current rules, which allow MPs to earn money from other sources including from lobbying for property deals, were out of step with community expectations.
In 2009, NSW introduced a ban on donations from property developers, recognising the potential corruption risk given the government was responsible for approving major property developments and the broader planning controls administered by councils.
But MPs could still receive payments for lobbying for property deals, as the Icac investigation into Maguire’s affairs has shown.
“It’s illegal to receive donations from property developers, it should be illegal for the very same developers to pay politicians commissions,” McKay said. “It shocks me that we need to do this. But as we’ve heard, the premier thinks these payments are acceptable.”
Asked whether any of her own side were, to her knowledge, accepting commissions from developers, McKay replied she was not sure, but said she would not be saying “woo hoo” if they were.
Exactly how the proposed law would be enforced remains unclear.
MPs are already required to disclose in their pecuniary interest registers whether they have additional sources of income beyond their salaries such as rent, income from farms or any other sources.
Maguire did not do so. His dealings with property developers only came to light because of phone taps by Icac as part of an earlier investigation into Canterbury council.
Icac then subsequently began an inquiry into Maguire which revealed more property dealings and his secret relationship with the premier.