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Gun club grant rejected for years before Daryl Maguire involvement

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The Australian Clay Target Association congratulated Daryl Maguire for his involvement in getting a $5.5 million grant (Image by Dan Jensen)

In an exclusive by Anthony Klan, it has been revealed that the gun club under ICAC investigation was repeatedly denied a grant before Daryl Maguire stepped in.

THE REGIONAL GUN CLUB at the centre of the corruption inquiry that felled former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian had sought government grants – but was repeatedly rejected – for several years before Daryl Maguire secured the multi-million dollar payment from the NSW Government.

The Australian Clay Target Association (ACTA) had been applying ‘for a period of over four years’ but had faced ‘repeated rejections’ when the $5.5 million grant was approved under Premier Berejiklian in August 2017, official club documents state.

It can also be exclusively revealed that, according to official gun club records, the deal ‘would never have been possible’ without Daryl Maguire, the local NSW Liberal MP at the time.

The $5.5 million grant to ACTA is at the centre of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigations that prompted Berejiklian’s spectacular resignation recently.

It’s been widely reported the approach to government was in January 2016 but these revelations show the gun club had been formally seeking – and being knocked back for – the grant since 2012 or 2013, raising more questions over the decision in 2017 to approve it.

ICAC has said it is investigating the period 2012-2018.

At the time of the grant and since at least 2015, Maguire and Berejiklian had been secret lovers, it emerged sensationally last year.

(Berejiklian has said the relationship started in 2015, while Maguire has variously stated that it started in 2013, 2014 and 2015.)

Maguire, who had been the NSW MP for Wagga Wagga for 19 years, was forced to resign from government in April 2018 after an earlier ICAC investigation into the then NSW Canterbury Council.

That investigation, called Operation Delta, revealed Maguire had sought secret kickbacks from a major Chinese property developer.

Late last year, in a fresh investigation into Maguire’s extensive secretive business dealings – code-named Operation Keppel – it emerged that Maguire had been in a secret “romantic relationship” with Berejiklian, from at least 2015 until August last year.

That was while Maguire, who reported to Berejiklian, had been allegedly involved in a string of improper, undisclosed, business dealings — some of which he had allegedly told Berejiklian about in phone conversations secretly recorded by ICAC. 

Berejiklian survived that scandal a year ago but tendered her resignation from parliament on 1 October after ICAC announced it was investigating her, as well as Maguire, under Operation Keppel.

ICAC announced it was investigating the circumstances around the gun club grant as well as another grant involving the Riverina Conservatorium of Music, also in Wagga Wagga.

Public hearings start next Monday and are expected to run for three weeks.

In mid-2017, the NSW Government granted ACTA $5.5 million to build a giant new clubhouse and 1,000-person convention centre at its premises on the outskirts of Wagga Wagga, about 250 kilometres west of Canberra.

The Klaxon can exclusively reveal that in ACTA’s 2017 annual report, the club’s then National President, Robert Nugent, congratulates club officials and Maguire for obtaining the $5.5 million grant.

Nugent praises the ‘persistence’ shown in ‘continually applying for funds’ despite ‘repeated rejections’.

Nugent writes:

‘This project, from the persistence shown in continually applying for funds over a period of over four years after repeated rejections... is a credit to all involved.’

It is known that Maguire made the January 2016 approach to the NSW Government on the gun club’s behalf, but these documents reveal just how vitally important Maguire’s involvement was to the club getting the $5.5 million.

The 2017 annual report says:

‘Finally, we must recognise the efforts of Daryl Maguire the local State LNP member without whom the project would never have been possible.’

It is publicly known that Maguire had been calling for a new convention centre in Wagga Wagga since 2005 and that he was praised in the electorate when it was granted, but the annual report shows just how integral his efforts were.

Nugent signed off on the annual report, in his capacity as National President, on 24 January 2018.

ACTA’s current chief executive officer, Paul Gilbert, said it was ‘not appropriate’ for the gun club to make any comment as the matter was ’currently under investigation by ICAC’

‘I was also not employed with the ACTA until late 2019 so cannot provide any historical perspective,’ Gilbert said in a written statement.

Attempts to reach Nugent, who ceased being ACTA National President in 2019, were unsuccessful.

A Department of Regional NSW spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment on the matter ‘currently the subject of a public inquiry’.

The circumstances and timeline of the gun club grant will be a central feature of ICAC’s public hearings.

Last year, ABC’s 7.30 revealed that Berejiklian had overseen a fund that in December 2016 set aside a “funding reservation” for the $5.5 million.

Two weeks later, on 2 January 2017, Maguire, as NSW MP, announced the $5.5 million funding grant.

However, it has since emerged that the grant was not actually approved until August 2017 — seven months later.

In August this year, 7.30 revealed that Berejiklian had intervened in the assessment of the gun club grant.

A cache of government emails showed that Maguire, on ACTA’s behalf, wrote to Berejiklian on 27 January 2016 seeking the funding.

On 18 February 2016, Berejiklian, who was NSW Treasurer at the time, responded that then Sports Minister Stuart Ayres would respond on behalf of the NSW Government.

In April 2017, the NSW Department of Industry conducted a “cost-benefit analysis” on the gun club grant application.

It failed the test.

The proposal didn’t deliver enough value for taxpayers and it was ‘highly unlikely that the conference facility will attract significant numbers of international and interstate visitors to NSW,’ the department found.

Then, in July 2017, the proposal was assessed again and this time it came back as meeting the criteria.

That reassessment appears to have been undertaken after an intervention by Berejiklian, who was NSW Premier at the time.

The documents show that on 1 June 2017, Regional NSW executive director Chris Hanger wrote to Infrastructure NSW CEO Jim Betts about the “updated” proposal.

Hanger wrote that the “updated” business case had been assessed ‘following a request by the Premier’.

Three weeks later, on 20 June 2017, Regional NSW Deputy Secretary Gary Barnes provided a written update to a senior Berejiklian staffer saying:

‘Just wanted to keep you in the loop given the Premier’s interest.’

Berejiklian had publicly said ICAC had told her she was not an “affected witness”, saying that ICAC should be left to “do their work”.

That changed on 1 October when ICAC announced Berejiklian was under direct investigation.

Only Berejiklian and Maguire have been announced by ICAC as under investigation.

ICAC has said it will release a “witness list” closer to the start of the hearings.

It is anticipated that numerous senior NSW Government officials will be called to give evidence to help ICAC in its investigations.

Anthony Klan is an investigative journalist and editor of The Klaxon. You can follow him on Twitter @Anthony_Klan.

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