A seemingly run of the mill email from a government adviser has linked Gladys Berejiklian to a controversial project being investigated by the corruption watchdog.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was shown reams of correspondence on Tuesday about an apparent pre-Christmas rush to get a pet project of her-then secret lover onto the agenda of a major budget meeting.
It was December 2016 when a funding proposal which public servants repeatedly rubbished as a ‘low priority’ was suddenly rushed to a cabinet committee meeting with the help of Ms Berejiklian, who was thenTreasurer.
With a subject line of ‘Wagg Wagga Clay Target Shooting’ (sic), a government adviser wrote: ‘The Treasurer has requested this issue be put on the agenda for the ERC meeting on 14 December.’
Those 18 bland words were presented to ICAC on Tuesday as part of its evidence against the former NSW premier – one of few times the inquiry even alluded to Ms Berejiklian today.
A seemingly bland, 18-word email is causing difficulties for former NSW premier Gladys Berjiklian
An email presented in evidence to ICAC said Gladys Berejiklian, who was then the state treasurer, gave approval for a controversial project to be taken to the NSW government’s expenditure review committee
ICAC is investigating whether Ms Berejiklian encouraged or allowed corrupt conduct by her secret ex-boyfriend and disgraced former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire.
Counsel for ICAC Scott Robertson SC spent the day questioning former public servant, Paul Doorn, who is now the chief executive officer at NSW Rugby Union and NSW Waratahs.
If he’d known Ms Berejiklian was in a close personal relationship with the MP pushing for the project, it would have been a ‘red flag’, Mr Doorn told ICAC.
He said there was ‘a lot of push’ from local MP Mr Maguire to get funding for the shooting facility in Wagga Wagga.
Mr Doorn had repeatedly classified the proposal as ‘low priority’, raising concerns about a lack of detail and the fact it would be in competition with an Olympic-standard clay shooting facility the government owned in Sydney.
‘We didn’t think it stacked up,’ he said.
Mr Doorn said there were ‘very clear rules’ for disclosing conflicts of interests. If he’d known about the former premier’s relationship with Mr Maguire, he would have had to approach his department secretary
‘Ultimately that would be then drawn to the attention of organisations like ICAC,’ he said.
At the end of today’s hearing, Mr Robertson, tendered some documents relating to witnesses who are not expected to give evidence during the public hearings.
This included an email on December 6, 2016, from a Yogi Savania in NSW Treasury to Josh Milner, also in Treasury, that said, in part: ‘FYI Josh. Could you try and get her hands on this from OOS [Office of Sport].
‘I spoke to Zach re this. The treasurer has requested this be brought forward and has indicated an inclination to support the proposal.’
Paul Doorn, chief executive officer at NSW Rugby Union and NSW Waratahs, arrives at an Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing in Sydney on Tuesday, October 19. ICAC’s Operation Keppel is in its first week of hearings into whether former premier Gladys Berejiklian breached public trust
ICAC heard that Ms Berejiklian approved the final version of a funding submission for a state government grant for the Australian Clay Target Association (ACTA) to be taken to the NSW government’s expenditure review committee (ERC) in December 2016.
An email presented in evidence said Ms Berejiklian gave that approval on December 2 and the ERC was to consider the proposal on December 14, 2016.
The ERC subsequently approved a conditional grant of $5.5 million.
Mr Robertson referred to the ACTA proposal as a ‘Build it and they will come project.’
ICAC is investigating whether Ms Berejiklian
1. Engaged in conduct between 2012 and 2018 that was ‘liable to allow or encourage the occurrence of corrupt conduct’ by former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, with whom she was in a close personal relationship between 2015 and 2018
2. Exercised her official functions dishonestly or partially by refusing to exercise her duty to report any reasonable suspicions about Mr Maguire to the ICAC
3. Exercised any of her official functions partially in connection with two multimillion-dollar grants in Mr Maguire’s electorate, to the Australian Clay Target Association Inc and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music.
He asked Mr Doorn if it would be considered a ‘career-limiting move’ to continue advising a minister, in this case the Sport Minister, that a proposal was a ‘bad idea’.
Mr Doorn agreed that there ‘comes a point in time’ where after a public servant has given ‘frank and fearless advice’ they then need to support a government decision.
In earlier proceedings on Tuesday, ICAC heard that in 2012 Mr Maguire wrote to the then Sport Minister, Graham Annesley, about funding for a new shooting centre.
Mr Doorn said it was ‘not just a shooting range but a broader facility’ that was being proposed.
As there was already an Olympic standard shooting facility in Greater Sydney that was used for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, this meant the funding request was to support a second international-standard shooting facility in the state.
Asked whether he gave advice about whether this was a good use of funds, Mr Doorn said he advised that it would be competing with an existing facility owned by the state, but ‘we would always explore it’.
An email from the time, which was entered as evidence, said ‘A low priority will be given to the project’.
Mr Robertson said ‘the likelihood is that it won’t be funded at all’ if a proposal is of ‘a low priority’.
Mr Doorn, who was then an executive director of the NSW Office of Sport, said he recalled that Mr Maguire wrote a second letter to the sport minister in 2016, following the earlier letter in 2012.
In 2016 the minister was Stuart Ayres, who is now the NSW Trade and Industry Minister. Mr Ayres is not accused of wrongdoing and is expected to give evidence later this week.
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian (front) and her former boyfriend Daryl Maguire
The Australian Clay Target Association is part of an ICAC inquiry into former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian
Mr Doorn said the association had ‘done a bit more work on what was a skeleton proposal’ for constructing international-standard facilities, including a clubhouse.
But he added that the lack of detail was still a challenge. No cost-benefit analysis had been provided but the government was considering providing funding of $40,000 to help the Australian Clay Target Association apply for more funding.
Mr Doorn said the government occasionally provided ‘seed funding’ to allow a cost-benefit analysis to be undertaken by a group seeking a bigger amount of money from the state government.
‘It’s not standard but it did happen from time to time. It would be rare,’ he said.
An email presented in evidence to the ICAC on Tuesday. It mentions an Invictus Games event could possibly be held at the proposed Wagga Wagga facility. But it later emerged that the Invictus Games does not have a shooting event
Mr Doorn said he recalled that in conversations with a colleague, Michael Toohey (who gave evidence on Monday) in late 2016, that they had ‘concerns’ about the project and how they might ‘safeguard the government’.
He later added that ‘Perhaps compared to other projects it just lacked the detail.’
The commission heard repeated evidence that the Australian Clay Target Association proposal seemed to lack value to the state.
‘It would have been towards bottom’ in priority, Mr Doorn said, while an email from another public servant said the previous time ACTA sought funding was rated the lowest of 15 proposals in 2013-14 and not funded.
ICAC also heard that a feasibility study option ‘disappeared’ from the second draft of a funding submission for a grant for the ACTA.
The initial draft featured two potential recommendations. The first was to approve a grant of $500,000 for a feasibility study for upgrading facilities, and the second was to approve a grant of $6.7 million to develop a large clubhouse.
Gladys Berejiklian (pictured right) is under investigation by ICAC for her conduct while NSW premier in relation to her former boyfriend, ex-MP Daryl Maguire (pictured left)
By the time it got to the second draft, the first option had ‘disappeared’, Mr Robertson said.
Mr Doorn said ‘We wouldn’t make that decision ourselves; that would have been made on feedback from the [sport] minister’s office.’
‘We would have provided a draft and then had a discussion around what that looked like.’
ICAC is investigating the conduct of Ms Berejiklian and her ex-boyfriend the former Liberal MP for Wagga Wagga, Mr Maguire, concerning $35 million in state government grants issued to the Australian Clay Target Association and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Mr Maguire’s electorate when Ms Berejiklian was NSW Treasurer.
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian seems to have a lot on her mind as she walks in Northbridge on Sydney’s north shore
Ms Berejiklian has repeatedly, strenuously denied any wrongdoing and said she always acted in the best interests of the people of NSW.
Mr Toohey, a director in the Office of Sport, was the first witness called by ICAC when it opened the public stage of its hearings yesterday.
He said the Australian Clay Target Association proposal ‘was a very risky idea’ and of Ms Berejiklian’s secret relationship with Mr Maguire he said: ‘I can’t see how that’s anything but a conflict of interest.’
Mr Robertson described the grants to the Australian Clay Target Association Inc and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music as ‘case studies’.
He said private ICAC hearings established that public officials involved with these grants would say they had been ‘influenced in the steps they took’ based on what they thought to be ‘Ms Berejiklian’s support for or interest in those projects’.
ICAC heard evidence that Ms Berejiklian, who was then the NSW treasurer, approved a funding submission for Wagga Wagga’s Australian Clay Target Association to be put before the state government’s expenditure review committee in December 2016.
He told the inquiry he was asked to put together in just one day a draft expenditure review committee (ERC) submission for funding for the Australian Clay Target Association Inc.
Mr Toohey said it was ‘extremely unusual’ to be asked to put together an ERC submission on such short notice. He did not recall this happening ever before.
‘I thought it was a very risky idea,’ he said. Mr Toohey told ICAC he never got a satisfactory answer as to why a funding submission for a multimillion-dollar government grant was such a matter of urgency in late 2016.
‘What was the rush? Why couldn’t it wait?’ Mr Toohey said he asked at the time.
Mr Robertson asked Mr Toohey if he ‘Would you have done anything differently, would it have affected what you did [if you knew about the relationship between Ms Berejiklian and Mr Maguire]?’
‘Absolutely. I would have expressed my concerns … to say I thought this was problematic.’
Mr Toohey said there was an ‘idea being thrown around’ that the association’s facilities were going to be relevant to getting the Invictus Games (an international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women, both serving and veterans) in Sydney.
‘Invictus Games doesn’t have shooting events. The claim that this was somehow related to the bid was imaginative,’ Mr Toohey said.
‘There was no way of knowing that the costs were right … It was quite deficient on what I thought were material matters. We didn’t even know how the project was going to be managed.’
He said it was not clear if it was a ‘feasible project’ and that he recalled that the analysis was predicated on an assumption of increased tourism to the region.
Mr Toohey said an analysis focused on the benefit to Wagga Wagga of funding the construction of a new clubhouse for the Australian Clay Target Association in the city is an ‘incomplete analysis’.
‘It has to benefit the state,’ he said.
Former NSW premier Mike Baird (pictured right) is set to appear before the ICAC inquiry into another former NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian (pictured left)
Mike Baird, who was the NSW premier at the time of the $5.5 million state government grant to the Australian Clay Target Association in Wagga Wagga, is expected to give evidence at ICAC tomorrow, as is his former director of strategy, Nigel Blunden.
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