WE’VE DONE NOTHING WRONG COUNTRY GARDEN AUSTRALIA BOSS SAYS OVER MAGUIRE TAPE
The NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has added to the pressure on NSW Liberal MP Daryl Maguire to resign, as the Australian head of a Chinese property developer who was named as his client says the company has “zero tolerance” for illegal behaviour.
Country Garden Australia chief executive G.T. Hu declined to comment on the recording of Daryl Maguire’s conversation with former Canterbury City councillor Michael Hawatt, played in Friday’s hearing of an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry, that led to Mr Maguire’s resignation from the parliamentary Liberal Party and calls for him to resign from Parliament.
“I need to talk to my consultants and my lawyer first,” Mr Hu told The Australian Financial Review on Sunday. “What I can tell you is that Country Garden is a responsible company and we have zero tolerance for any illegal things [by] any employees.”
Mr Hu was asked why Mr Maguire was heard to be asking Mr Hawatt about shovel-ready sites that Country Garden could acquire in the May 2016 conversation – a month in which units surged 2.1 per cent in value in Sydney’s then white-hot market, according to CoreLogic figures.
“I think you’d better ask him,” Mr Hu said. “Because he mentioned our company. You’d better be asking him.”
Mr Maguire was not answering phone calls on Sunday. In a statement, the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she was shocked by the evidence presented to ICAC and said Mr Maguire “has let down his constituents, the people of NSW and the NSW Liberal Party.”
Over the weekend she had spoken to the NSW director of the LIberal Party and asked him to seek Mr Maguire’s resignation from the party. “I am advised he has resigned his membership,” she said.
She said that while it was for Mr Maguire to decide if he should stay in parliament, “I would encourage him to think carefully as to whether he can effectively represent the people of Wagga Wagga from here on in.”
Her comments raise the likelihood of an unwelcome byelection for the government, which could trigger a three-cornered contest with the National Party. The seat is one of only a few regional seats west of the Great Dividing Range held by the Liberal Party instead of its Coalition partner. The seat is relatively safe, held by a margin of 12.9 per cent.
In a phone tap, Mr Maguire, the member for Wagga Wagga, said the developer was a “client” of his and discussed making a commission from the sale of a Sydney development site to the company.
Hong Kong-listed Country Garden, the largest Chinese developer by sales last year, entered Australia in 2013 and by 2014 was in discussions to take over Sydney-based Meriton, the privately owned business of Australia’s second-richest person, Harry Triguboff.
After some years building apartment towers, it expanded into the house-and-land market last year, with a record-breaking $400 million purchase of a 363-hectare site in Melbourne’s west. Earlier this month it said it had sold out the first stage of the planned Windemere estate.
It is unclear why the MP for a rural NSW electorate was searching for sites on behalf of a Chinese developer, but Country Garden does not seem to be the only developer with which he had links. In 2015 he visited the headquarters of Aoyuan International, the developer of Sydney’s 38-level ONE30 Hyde Park development.
An Aoyuan press release says Mr Maguire met the company’s chairman Guo Zi Wen at its headquarters in Guangzhou in southern China in November that year. The company said Mr Maguire was briefed on the company’s history, strategy and its projects in Australia during the visit.
In the recording played in Friday’s hearing, Mr Maguire told Mr Hawatt, a key figure in the current ICAC inquiry into suspected corruption at Canterbury Council, that his client was “mega big”, had “mega money” and was hungry for development sites with permits in place.
“I need a few things to feed my friends,” Mr Maguire tells Mr Hawatt in the recording. “They want 30 projects, rolling, and ideally they want something that’s DA approved, a couple that are DA approved and ready to go. How much per unit site are they asking?”
Mr Maguire then told Mr Hawatt that the commission of 1.5 per cent that the owner of the Canterbury Road development site in western Sydney they were discussing was willing to pay Mr Hawatt was not enough.
“One point five per cent isn’t enough divided by two, if you know what I’m talking about,” Mr Maguire said. “Three per cent’s a lot better.”