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