The ICAC took us inside the grant funding sausage factory – no lack of fingers in this hash


This seems clear from the first week of hearings before the Independent Commission against Corruption: a grant of $ 5.5 million relentlessly demanded by former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire for the development of a club of shooting in his electorate was not supported by almost anyone in the bureaucracy. .

Day after day, the ICAC heard testimony about how unusual this grant process was and how it should have failed.

Michael Toohey – a senior NSW Office of Sport official – did not support him.

Nigel Blunden, then chief strategy officer for Prime Minister Mike Baird, did not support him.

Treasury officials did not support him.

It did not follow the usual procedure, or did not follow the usual timetable, to obtain a grant submission to the Expenditure Review Committee (ERC).

It was removed from the ERC agenda and then put back in place.

As Mr. Toohey told the Inquiry, the proposal was not successful. He said that at one point it had been suggested that the proposed facilities would host the Invictus Games.

There was only one problem: there is no shooting event for the Invictus Games. And the games themselves were already planned for Sydney.

The grounds of the Australian Clay Target Association in Wagga Wagga, NSW.(ABC News: Shaun Kingma)

However, the funding still increased. The ICAC survey investigates whether then-treasurer Gladys Berejiklian played a critical role in managing this grant and whether her support influenced public officials at key times.

Ms Berejiklian has yet to appear, but there are fleeting references to her in documents admitted to the investigation.

“We understand that Minister Ayres agrees with the treasurer [Ms Berejiklian] that a request for $ 5.5 million for a Clay Target Association facility in Wagga Wagga be considered by the ERC, ”wrote an official in early December.

Newly appointed Employment Minister and Deputy Liberal Leader Stuart Ayres could not recall having had specific conversations with Ms Berejiklian about this particular grant.

When he appeared as a witness on Friday, he told the inquest that this correspondence likely referred to communication between their offices.

Stuart Ayres walks smiling
Stuart Ayres arrives Friday to testify at the ICAC investigation.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Mr Ayres defended the proposal, saying it had merit and “would have a strategic advantage for the NSW regional sports community”.

In an email delivered during the investigation, he called the proposal “legitimate”.

He told the inquest that the funding decision had been expedited so that the club could host an international shooting event in Wagga.

He said he was not aware of any opposition to the project from the bureaucracy.

However, he agreed that the event was already planned. This would happen with or without the new installation.

During this critical Cabinet meeting, funding for the grant was then funded by the Regional Growth and Environment Fund, which was overseen by then Deputy Prime Minister John Barilaro.

Mr. Barilaro is due to testify on Monday.

A woman wearing a cap stands in front of a man wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
Gladys Berejiklian admitted that she had a secret five-year relationship with Daryl Maguire.(Provided)

The ICAC is still hearing testimony, but a pattern has emerged in its series of questions.

Every public servant and member of the government is asked two crucial questions: “Do you think Gladys Berejiklian should have disclosed her relationship with Mr. Maguire?” And “Would you have acted differently if you had been aware of it?”

It is this parallel world – where Ms. Berejiklian has revealed her relationship – that the ICAC seeks to build.

What he is trying to show is how key people in key positions would have acted differently at critical moments in the allocation of taxpayer funds.

Mr Toohey told the inquest that this was “absolutely” information he needed to know, and that he would have acted differently and expressed his concerns if he had known.

“I don’t see how this is anything other than a conflict of interest,” he said.

NSW Office of Sport executive director Paul Doorn said it would have been a “red flag” and could give the appearance of conflict.

Mr Blunden said it was “obvious” that a perceived conflict could exist.

Mr. Ayres stressed that he did not believe that Ms. Berejiklian or Mr. Maguire could derive any personal benefit from the project.

However, he admitted that had he been aware of the relationship he would have feared that a conflict would need to be managed and that Ms Berejiklian should have considered withdrawing from the ERC deliberations.

A man in a suit and tie walks past him as a microphone is extended towards him.
Former NSW Premier Mike Baird arrives to testify before the ICAC. (PAA: Joël Carrett)

Former Prime Minister Mike Baird was unusually terse, but his cut words were devastating: He was “in disbelief” that Ms Berejiklian and Mr Maguire had a relationship.

“Running a public service in the context of a potential private interest, I think in terms of good practice this should be disclosed,” he said.

As prime minister at the time, he did have the ministerial code of conduct at the time. This evidence can be crucial in the deliberations of the ICAC.

What is also striking about these hearings is the rare insight the public now gets into the complicated matters of Cabinet governance.

It is not pretty. It’s the sausage factory of subsidy funding laid bare, and there’s no lack of fingers in the hash.

Mr Blunden, who worked in Mr Baird’s office, offered a colorful overview of what most of us would assume to be the dry business of government decision-making.

“Sometimes you just have to say WTF,” he wrote in the preface of a note explaining why he thought the shooting club grant should be opposed.

It was to be known as the “Maguire International Shooting Center of Excellence”, a joke at the expense of the former Wagga member.

And he goes on to say: “Gladys and Ayres want it. No doubt [they’ve] struck a heartfelt deal with Daryl, but it goes against all the principles of sound economic management. “

Mr Ayres objected to this assessment, saying “fancy would be a good word” for this particular assessment.

A sign outside a building says 'Australian Clay Target Association'.
The Australian Clay Target Association at Wagga Wagga.(ABC News: Shaun Kingma)

Mr. Blunden’s note is reassuring in some ways. This shows that some officials remain committed to giving frank and courageous advice, in notes that are normally hidden from view.

Day after day, new documents entitled “CABINET EN CONFIDENCE” are deposited by the ICAC. No other institution could do it.

When 7.30 first revealed Ms Berejiklian’s role in awarding this grant in December of last year, we exposed the potential conflict that could arise, but these cabinet documents were well beyond our reach.

Pesky journalists rarely get unauthorized leaks of Cabinet documents, and even the NSW Parliament cannot demand them.

A sign reads 'ICAC: Independent Commission Against Corruption'
The ICAC hearings will continue next week.(Provided: Sydney Criminal Lawyers)

But the ICAC can. Charged by the New South Wales government with overseeing all aspects of its own transactions, it puts a blow to that confidentiality, shattering the secrets of Cabinet governance. Nothing is forbidden.

We haven’t heard from Ms. Berejiklian yet. She denied any wrongdoing.

When 7.30 first asked her about this grant in December of last year, she argued that she was going through normal processes and not intervening in them.

Based on testimony heard so far, this public explanation will likely be strongly contested by the assistant ICAC lawyer when Ms Berejiklian testifies next week.

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