Berejiklian wanted grant request for Maguire’s electorate accelerated, inquiry told

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Berejiklian wanted grant request for Maguire’s electorate accelerated, inquiry told

By Lucy Cormack

Former NSW treasurer Gladys Berejiklian wanted a multimillion-dollar grant request for her boyfriend’s Wagga Wagga electorate accelerated and planned to back the proposal before it was presented to the government’s expenditure committee, a corruption inquiry has heard.

A 2016 email tendered to the Independent Commission Against Corruption has suggested Ms Berejiklian indicated she would support funding the Australian Clay Target Association and wanted the grant process to be “brought forward”.

In the December 6 email, NSW Treasury director Yogi Savania wrote to a fellow department colleague, “Could you try and get her hands on this from [Office of Sport]?”

Paul Doorn leaves  the ICAC after giving evidence on Tuesday. He is not accused of wrongdoing.

Paul Doorn leaves the ICAC after giving evidence on Tuesday. He is not accused of wrongdoing.Credit:Janie Barrett

“The treasurer has requested this be brought forward and has indicated an inclination to support the proposal.”

Ms Berejiklian is yet to give evidence and has not said if the email is consistent with her views.

The document was tendered on the second day of the ICAC inquiry examining whether Ms Berejiklian breached the public trust or encouraged corrupt conduct during her five-year secret relationship with disgraced former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire.

It will focus on Ms Berejiklian and Mr Maguire in relation to grants issued to the clay target club and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music.

The inquiry into Ms Berejiklian’s dealings prompted her immediate resignation last month as the state’s 45th premier, as well as her exit from state parliament altogether.

The commission on Tuesday heard evidence from Paul Doorn, a former executive director at the Office of Sport, which was given a single day in late 2016 to prepare a funding submission for the gun club, following a request from then-sports minister Stuart Ayres.

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Counsel assisting the ICAC, Scott Robertson, arrives at the ICAC inquiry in Sydney.

Counsel assisting the ICAC, Scott Robertson, arrives at the ICAC inquiry in Sydney.Credit:Janie Barrett

Mr Doorn said he had concerns about the gun club business case and was never told why there was such urgency to bring the request before the government’s expenditure committee on December 16.

He said he was ultimately surprised to learn the funding was granted, given the project had been marked as a “low priority” by the department as far back as 2012.

“We were surprised that it did get funded,” Mr Doorn said, adding that he and fellow bureaucrats “didn’t think it stacked up” and felt the proposal lacked necessary checks and balances.

Mr Doorn told the commission his department made its concerns about the project known to Mr Ayres, but agreed with counsel assisting Scott Robertson that it would have been a “career-limiting move” to keep advising against it.

“One of the things you’ve got to do as a senior public servant is ride that balance between giving frank and fearless advice and then ... make your best endeavour to support the policy objective,” he said.

Mr Doorn said he had no idea about Ms Berejiklian’s relationship with Mr Maguire until he saw media reports following a hearing of the first stage of the same ICAC inquiry last year.

He agreed the relationship would have been a “red flag” at the time he was handling the grant process for the gun club, given “rules in public sector land” about disclosing conflicts of interest.

“If that was a known fact the first thing you’d be doing is notifying your [department] secretary ... then that would be drawn to the attention of organisations like ICAC,” he said.

The commission also heard the office of then-premier Mike Baird was concerned about why the club grant was being rushed, questioning why it could not be delayed until the new year to allow time for market testing and project planning to be completed.

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Additional documents tendered on Tuesday included the transcript of a previously secret hearing with former NSW government strategy adviser Zach Bentley.

Mr Bentley told the ICAC he believed Mr Baird’s chief of strategy Nigel Blunden “queried why we were giving funding to a clay target association in ... a relatively safe seat”.

Mr Bentley also said he had communications with an “abrupt” Mr Maguire during the relevant period, describing phone calls in which the former MP said words to the effect of, “get the effing thing sorted. You know, I really need this for my electorate”.

Mr Blunden and Mr Baird will both give evidence to the commission on Wednesday and Mr Ayres will appear on Friday. None of the three men are accused of wrongdoing.

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