Former premier Gladys Berejiklian lied about the extent of her secret relationship with fellow MP Daryl Maguire, her top staffer has conceded to the state's corruption watchdog.
The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption is investigating whether Ms Berejiklian breached public trust when she supported projects championed by her secret boyfriend, the former Wagga Wagga MP Mr Maguire.
Of the three senior staffers who gave evidence at the inquiry on Tuesday, former chief of staff Sarah Cruickshank was the only one who knew the pair had been in a relationship before it was was revealed in the course of an ICAC investigation into Mr Maguire last year.
Ms Cruickshank told the inquiry Ms Berejiklian called her on the day Mr Maguire became embroiled in corruption allegations in July 2018, but that the premier said the relationship was "historical".
Before Ms Cruickshank could ask any questions, Ms Berejiklian said "it was over before I became premier".
The premier was "categorically clear" on that point and repeated it a couple of times, Ms Cruickshank said.
"I left the conversation with the impression that it was more than just a few dinners, but... I didn't get the sense it was a full blown, intense relationship."
The ICAC has since established the relationship spanned several years. Ms Berejiklian only severed contact with Mr Maguire a month before the pair was outed in October 2020.
As she thought the relationship had ended some time ago, Ms Cruickshank said she and Ms Berejiklian did not discuss whether it needed to be disclosed given the controversy surrounding Mr Maguire.
She would have responded differently had she known the relationship extended into Ms Berejiklian's tenure as premier.
"I would have sat down with her and gone through whether or not there were implications for things that she had done... for optical reasons, not because I thought there ever was a conflict of interest."
Her reaction would have been different again if she realised the relationship was ongoing at the time Mr Maguire resigned.
During private compulsory examinations before the public hearings, Ms Cruickshank said she would have said: "How on earth can we have a by-election if you're dating the fellow who's had to stand aside?"
"She lied to you," Commissioner Ruth McColl put to Ms Cruickshank.
"That's your words, commissioner," she replied.
"Is there any other description of it than a lie?
"No, there probably isn't."
Ms Cruickshank twice rejected the possibility she misunderstood what Ms Berejiklian said about the timeframe of the relationship.
Nonetheless she said she was surprised to be appearing before a probe into Ms Berejiklian's conduct.
"My experience has been that she is very, very upfront and very much full of integrity," Ms Cruickshank said under cross examination by Ms Berejiklian's lawyer.
"Each of the issues that I've been asked about related to (the grants)... I don't remember the premier ever saying anything to me about it.
"What crosses my mind is a lesser person would have asked me to look at those things ... but she didn't."
Two other staffers - former strategy director Brad Burden and former chief of staff Neil Harley - earlier on Tuesday gave evidence that advice would have been sought about how Ms Berejiklian could manage a conflict of interest if they had know about her relationship with Mr Maguire.
But both men were also adamant she always behaved in a "principled fashion" and was a "stickler" for the rules.
She never treated Mr Maguire or his electorate any differently, they agreed.
"I have never, ever, in my time in politics, known a person more fiercely committed to public service, and serving the people of the state than Ms Berejiklian," Mr Harley said.
Ms Berejiklian resigned as premier on October 1 after ICAC announced it would hold two weeks of public hearings into her conduct. She denies any wrongdoing.
Australian Associated Press