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Smoking gun shows Perrottet's club grant was illegal from the start

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A deleted document proves that Dominic Perrottet approved the gun club grant despite it expressly breaching investment criteria (Image by Dan Jensen)

Deleted NSW Government “guidelines” for a $300 million investment fund show the Wagga Wagga gun club grant approved by NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet was expressly illegal from the outset.

The revelations mean that not only was the grant illegal under the legislation, as previously revealed, but it was even illegal under the specific “criteria” set for the investment fund.

And, it can now be revealed, that “criteria” was written by former NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro — and approved by Perrottet as NSW Treasurer.

It has been revealed that Barilaro advocated for the Regional Growth — Environment and Tourism Fund (RGETF) for over a year, before the creation of the fund was approved by Perrottet.

The latest revelations show Barilaro and Perrottet respectively also created and approved the fund’s specific investment “criteria”.

Both the creation of the $300 million fund and its investment criteria were approved at a meeting of the Government’s Expenditure Review Committee (ERC) on 28 February 2017.

The ERC is overseen by the NSW Treasurer of the day and that February 2017 meeting was overseen by Perrottet, in one of his first jobs as NSW Treasurer.

The first grant through Barilaro’s new $300 million RGTEF was the $5.5 million to the Australian Clay Target Association in Wagga Wagga NSW.

As previously revealed, that grant was approved by Perrottet, as NSW Treasurer, in August 2017.

That means Perrottet approved the investment criteria for the fund and then just months later, approved the gun club grant from the fund — despite it expressly breaching that criteria.

The guidelines and investment “criteria” for Barilaro’s $300 million fund are included in a 12-page document titled ‘Expressions of interest — guidelines’, which has since been deleted from the internet.

A copy was obtained through the archive site, Wayback Machine.

The guidelines expressly state projects are not eligible if they ‘are on private land and/or have exclusive private benefits’.

The $5.5 million grant was for a new clubhouse and function centre for the gun club — a private club on private land.

The since-deleted document confirms claims heard by the ICAC that Infrastructure NSW pushed back against the gun club grant (before an alleged intervention by then Premier Gladys Berejiklian) on grounds grants from the RGTEF had to go to ‘public assets on public land’.

Until now, no documentary evidence has been provided to back up that assertion.

(Source: NSW Government via Wayback Machine)

The “guidelines” document for the Regional RGETF includes the heading: ‘What projects are eligible for funding?’

Underneath it states:

‘The RGTEF is open to regional environment infrastructure projects on publicly owned land and regional tourism projects.’

It also expressly states that projects on private land are not allowed.

It includes the heading: ‘What projects would not be eligible?’

Underneath, it states:

‘RGETF will not fund projects that… are on private land and/or have exclusive private benefits.’

(Source: NSW Government via Wayback Machine)

Illegal anyway

As previously revealed, the gun club grant was illegal from the outset — irrespective of the “guidelines” written by Barilaro and approved by Perrottet.

That’s because the $300 million RGETF was funded from the multi-billion dollar Restart NSW Fund.

Most of the money in the multi-billion dollar Restart NSW Fund has come from the sale of the NSW “poles and wires” electricity infrastructure from 2014.

Allowable investments from the Restart NSW Fund are set in legislation, under the Restart NSW Fund Act 2011.

The Act is just five pages long and it expressly stipulates the types of infrastructure projects that Restart NSW Fund money can legally be used for. 

They include transport and roads infrastructure, health and public services infrastructure, infrastructure in areas ‘affected by mining operations’ and infrastructure ‘required for the economic competitiveness of the state’

They are referred to in the Act as ‘the purpose of the Restart NSW Fund’.

(Source: Restart NSW Fund Act)

The Australian Clay Targets Association’s “large clubhouse/conference facility” development on the outskirts of Wagga Wagga NSW meets none of them. 

Perrottet has not denied the $5.5 million grant was illegal.

When Perrottet was asked to point to the “purpose” of the Act that the gun club satisfied, he instead pointed to NSW Infrastructure.

As previously reported, NSW Infrastructure is responsible for assessing whether projects deliver value for taxpayers and then making a “recommendation”.

But – as the Act clearly states – it is the NSW Treasurer who is responsible for either approving or rejecting grants.

On top of this legislative requirement was a specific directive of the ERC citing the Treasurer’s involvement.

In December 2016, at an ERC overseen by Berejiklian, then Treasurer, it was decided “conditional approval” would be given to the $5.5 million gun club grant, subject to four conditions.

Condition four was:

‘The finalisation of a satisfactory business case, noting this could be approved by the Treasurer following Infrastructure NSW assurance processes.’

The since-deleted 12-page document further confirms an exposé that the gun club grant was illegal from the outset, given it didn’t meet the requirements of the Restart NSW Fund Act.

There are four “criteria” for grants from the RGTEF. 

Criteria one states:

‘All applications need to demonstrate that the project would meet the purpose of the Restart NSW Fund, achieve the objectives of the RGETF and the eligibility criteria set out in this document.’

The gun club neither meets a purpose of the Restart NSW Fund nor the “eligibility criteria” set out in the document.

(Source: The Klaxon)

Documents lodged with the ICAC show Barilaro wrote to fellow MPs about his proposed new fund in December 2015.

Barilaro then took the proposal to the ERC.

It was discussed in June 2016 at an ERC meeting overseen by Berejiklian.

At that meeting, Barilaro was told “guidelines” needed to be developed prior to the ERC considering and approving the guidelines.

Barilaro continued pushing for the new fund, but the ERC did not formally “consider” or “approve the guidelines” of the fund until the meeting on 28 February 2017, overseen by Perrottet:

  • Dec 2015: Barilaro writes to MPs about his proposed new fund.
  • Jan 2016: Maguire writes to Stuart Ayres seeking gun club grant.
  • Apr-Jun 2016: Barilaro applies to ERC for proposed new fund.
  • Jul 2016: Ayres visits Wagga Wagga gun club with Maguire.
  • Dec 2016: Ayres takes gun club proposal to Berejiklian’s ERC.
  • Jan 2017: Berejiklian becomes NSW Premier and Perrottet becomes Treasurer.
  • Feb 2017: Perrottet approves Barilaro’s $300 million RGTEF fund and also approves its “criteria”, written by Barilaro.
  • Aug 2017: Perrottet approves $5.5 million gun club grant despite it failing the “criteria” of Barilaro’s RGTEF fund.

Criteria

The revelations raise serious questions for Perrottet, who was appointed NSW Premier after Berejiklian voluntarily resigned amid the scandal in October last year.

Curiously, the ICAC has not had Perrottet appear before any public hearings and if it has interviewed him privately, it has not made this known publicly or released any transcripts.

The ICAC has heard NSW Infrastructure, as well as baulking at the gun club proposal because grants needed to be for ‘public infrastructure on public land’ failed it on value for money grounds.

The ICAC has heard Berejiklian in 2017 as NSW Premier intervened.

NSW Infrastructure NSW then “reassessed” the proposal and found it did deliver value for money for taxpayers.

It then “recommended” it to the NSW Treasurer – Perrottet – who was responsible for deciding whether to accept or reject the grant.

There were serious concerns over the grant at the highest levels of NSW Government – as ICAC filings have shown – reflecting the importance of the Treasurer’s decision, particularly in this case.

Perrottet has not yet been asked under oath by ICAC – at least publicly – why he approved the grant (despite it being illegal under the Act and outside the RGTEF investment “criteria”, which he approved).

Or, just as importantly, whether he was aware of any of the long-running controversy surrounding the grant before he approved it, on 28 August 2017.

Operation Keppel has not reported yet and so remains ongoing.

Anthony Klan is an investigative journalist and editor of The Klaxon. You can follow him on Twitter @Anthony_Klan. This article was originally published on The Klaxon and has been republished with permission.

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