The deputy leader of the NSW Liberals Stuart Ayres appears to have given false or misleading evidence to the state’s corruption watchdog regarding his involvement in the $5.5 million grant for a 1000-person convention centre at a Wagga Wagga gun club.
In explosive new revelations – which Ayres has not denied – The Klaxon has obtained documents that appear to directly contradict sworn evidence the NSW Investment Minister gave to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) last week.
A central point in ICAC’s investigations into how the NSW Government came to award the $5.5m gun club grant is a July 2016 meeting in Wagga Wagga, between gun club officials, Ayres, who was then NSW Sports Minister, and the since disgraced Daryl Maguire, then the Wagga Wagga state member.
Maguire and Berejiklian before Maguire was forced to resign from NSW Parliament in disgrace in 2018. Source: Supplied
The Klaxon has obtained documents that appear to directly contradict evidence Ayres gave to ICAC on Friday last week regarding that 2016 visit.
After NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian resigned earlier this month amid the ICAC scandal, Ayres, 40, was appointed Deputy Leader of the NSW Liberal Party, NSW Minister for Investment and NSW Minister for Trade.
On Friday last week, ICAC Council Assisting, Scott Robertson, asked Ayres about his 2016 Wagga Wagga trip, which was documented in a letter Ayres wrote to Maguire on August 3, 2016, after returning to Sydney.
Ayres confirmed the 2016 Wagga Wagga visit, and that while there he had met with officials of the Australian Clay Target Association (ACTA), who had been seeking the multi-million dollar grant through Maguire.
“Who organised that particular visit, do you recall?” Robertson asked.
Ayres said his visit had been part of a trip to “to make announcements for other funding grants”, including “a toilet block at a local golf course”, and had included “visiting a local sport and (recreation) centre”.
“We might have funded a toilet block at a local golf course” — Stuart Ayres
“I think I was visiting Wagga to make announcements for other funding grants,” Ayres said.
“I think from memory we might have, we might have funded a toilet block at a local golf course.
“And I think I also visited, I might have been visiting a local sport and rec. centre,” Ayres told ICAC.
“I think I also visited…a local sport and rec. centre” — Stuart Ayres
The Klaxon has obtained documents – including photographs from Ayres’ official Facebook page, and the NSW Office of Sport – Riverina Murray Facebook page – that appear to directly contradict that evidence.
It is correct that Ayres, over three days, visited the Wagga Wagga gun club, posed for photographs outside a new toilet block, and visited a nearby sports and recreation centre.
Only that was in August 2017.
It was the crucial, July 2016, trip that Ayres was asked about under oath at ICAC last week.
Ayres did not respond to repeated requests for comment put to him, his office and his media spokeswoman, Sophie Hull, over the past three days.
ICAC has not accused Ayres of any wrongdoing.
Providing false evidence to ICAC is a criminal offence, which can carry significant jail time.
Part of the testimony NSW Deputy Liberal Leader Stuart Ayres gave to ICAC last week. Source: ICAC
Ayres became NSW Deputy Liberal Leader after Berejiklian voluntarily resigned as NSW Premier, and from parliament entirely, when ICAC on October 1 this month announced she was under investigation.
ICAC’s Operation Keppel is examining the $5.5m ACTA gun club grant as well as a $10m grant (and an additional $20m promised) to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music, also in Wagga Wagga.
Late last year, in an ICAC public hearing, it emerged that Berekilian had been in a secret relationship with Maguire from at least 2015 to August 2020.
Maguire, who had been Wagga Wagga’s Liberal MP for 19 years, resigned in disgrace in 2018 after an earlier ICAC investigation found he had sought secret payments from a major Chinese developer in exchange for brokering property deals.
ICAC announced on October 1 that it had expanded Operation Keppel, and that it was now investigating Berejiklian as well Maguire.
No other people have been named by ICAC as under investigation.
The Klaxon has exclusively revealed to date:
– That the person responsible for approving or rejecting the $5.5m grant was the NSW Treasurer, which at the time was Dominic Perrottet, now NSW Premier
– The gun club claims to have incurred mystery “significant costs” in securing the $5.5m grant that were so big they dinted its 2016 profits.
In a remarkable day of hearings, ICAC on Thursday played a record of an intercepted telephone conversation between Maguire and Berejiklian on July 30, 2018, which was just weeks after Maguire had been forced to announce his resignation from parliament amid scandal.
Maguire talks of funding wishes he has for Wagga Wagga, and complains that “bureaucrats” had got in the road.
“But yes, I can overrule them,” Berejiklian replied.
The couple also discuss the by-election that was to be held in Wagga Wagga as a result of Maguire having been forced to resign from government.
“I’ll throw money at Wagga, lots of it, don’t you worry about that,” Berejiklian says.
Berejiklian, who is due to front ICAC Friday, has previously denied any wrongdoing.
Postcards from Wagga Wagga
The Klaxon has conducted a detailed investigation, which has included reviewing ICAC submissions, official ACTA gun club documents, local media reports, social media posts and other materials.
It has delivered a clear timeline.
Ayres’ 2016 visit to the Wagga Wagga gun club, with Maguire, was on July 15, 2016.
Ayres’ 2017 visit to the Wagga Wagga gun club, again with Maguire, was on August 15, 2017 – over a year later.
As previously revealed by The Klaxon, and since confirmed in ICAC’s public hearings, Maguire had been pushing for the ACTA gun club grant since at least 2012.
The letter Ayres wrote to Maguire after his July 2016 gun club visit. Source: ICAC
In early 2016, Maguire, on ACTA’s behalf, approached the NSW Government for funding for the Wagga Wagga gun club development.
He wrote to then NSW Treasurer Berejiklian and to then NSW Sports Minister Ayres seeking the multi-million dollar grant.
Ayres knocked-back the request.
Yet not long after, in July 2016, Ayres visited Wagga Wagga and met with Maguire and ACTA officials, touring the gun club’s premises on July 15.
“I met with the NSW Sports Minister Mr Stuart Ayres and the member for Wagga Wagga Mr Daryl Maguire on the national ground on Friday 15th July,” ACTA’s then Executive Director Tony Turner wrote in 2016.
That was in the September 2016 edition of ACTA’s monthly publication, the Australian Clay Target Shooting News.
“We provided the minister with a tour of the facility and explained the overall plans we had for the complex,” Turner wrote.
An article recording Ayres’ August 2017 visit to the Wagga Wagga gun club. Source: ACTA
The next year, in August 2017, Ayres again visited Wagga Wagga and, on August 15, again took a tour of ACTA’s “national grounds”, on Wagga Wagga’s eastern outskirts.
That visit was recorded in the Australian Clay Target Shooting News, in the October 2017 edition, in an article headed “Ministerial Inspection for ACTA Function Centre”.
Local newspaper The Daily Advertiser also covered Ayres’ visit,reporting on it on the day it occurred, Tuesday August 15.
On that same day, August 15, 2017, and the following day, Wednesday August 16, a series of photographs of Ayres and Maguire were posted to the Office of Sport – Riverina Murray Facebook page, and to the official Facebook page of Stuart Ayres.
In one of the photos, Ayres and Maguire are pictured with ACTA officials at the Wagga Wagga gun club.
In another, the two men are pictured posing in front of a new toilet block.
In another of the photos, Maguire and Ayres are standing side-by-side shooting archery arrows at a sports and recreation centre.
“Talking…Regional Infrastructure Grants along with inspecting upgrades to the Borambola Sports & Recreation Centre and the new Clay Target centre about to start construction,” says one of the captions dated August 16, 2017.
The Borambola Sport and Recreation Centre is the only one in the Riverina-Murray region.
(When asked by ICAC last week about his mid-2016 trip Ayres responded: “I might have been visiting a local sport and rec centre”. Ayres continued: “We have a number of them around the state and there’s one in, down in that Wagga region.”
Photos circulated widely by media in recent weeks, picturing Ayres, Maguire, and ACTA gun club officials, at the Wagga Wagga gun club, were taken during that August 2017 visit.
Last Friday, ICAC Council Assisting, Scott Robertson, questioned Ayres about the earlier, July 2016, Wagga Wagga trip, when he had also met with Maguire and ACTA officials at the ACTA gun club.
“Who organised that particular visit, do you recall?” asked Robertson.
Maguire (left) and Ayres shooting archery at a sport and recreation centre. Source: Facebook
Ayres provided the response shown above, citing a golf course toilet block and a “local sport and (recreation) centre”.
ICAC’s Robertson responded: “Sounds like an unenjoyable thing to open, but anyway.”
“Indeed,” said Ayres. “The local community infrastructure comes in all shapes and sizes and does all different things.”
Robertson continued: “But who organised that particular visit? Was that something that was done on the initiative or suggestion of Mr Maguire or was that done in some other fashion?”
Ayres responded: “No, I think it would have been done just through the general course of being able to move around the state”.
“We would have been trying to get to a number of different electorates, talk to local members”.
Ayres’ visit to the gun club in 2016, and his visit in August 2017, would have been notably different experiences.
One of the photos taken during Ayres’ August 2017 visit has not been widely circulated.
In it, Ayres is shown standing with Maguire and ACTA officials in front of large mounds of dirt, on cleared earth where works for the gun club development have begun.
Ayres’ earlier visit, in July 2016, was before Ayres had even awarded the gun club a $40,000 grant to make a business plan seeking the $5.5m grant.
Visibly different experiences: Ayres and Maguire visit the gun club in August 2017, standing in front of mounds of dirt. Source: Australian Clay Target Shooting News
As part of its work, ICAC typically conducts investigations and interviews before asking some witnesses to give evidence at public hearings.
Transcripts posted by ICAC show an interview that ICAC has held with Tony Turner, who was the Executive Director of the ACTA gun club in 2016.
It is known that Maguire wrote to NSW Treasurer Berejiklian and NSW Sports Minister Ayres in early 2016 seeking the ACTA grant, and that he was rejected by Ayres.
And it is known that Ayres subsequently visited the Wagga Wagga gun club, in July 2016.
Turner tells ICAC that Maguire called him in “June, early June, 2016” and said “I’ve got Stuart Ayres in town. You’ve got half an hour to sell him your idea”.
“I’ve got Minister (Ayres), I can’t do anything more for you. He’s the Minister, you sell him what you want,” Turner quoted Maguire as saying in the call.
Ayres visited the following month, on July 15.
On returning to Sydney, just over two weeks later, on August 3, 2016, Ayres wrote to Maguire.
He asked Maguire to thank the ACTA officials for “showing me around their venue on my visit to Wagga Wagga” and told Maguire that the club would be receiving $40,000.
Ayres was “pleased to confirm that I have approved funding of $40,000” for the gun club to prepare a “business case to support its funding request”, he wrote to Maguire.
ICAC’s interview with Turner sheds considerable new light on Ayres’ visit to Wagga Wagga in July 2016.
Turner tells ICAC that by 2016 the gun club had been working closely with Maguire for some time, and that Maguire had been “supporting our applications”.
“Daryl was supporting our applications and I get a phone call, it would have been June, early June 2016, and Daryl said to me ’Tony, I’ve got Stuart Ayres in town. You’ve got half an hour to sell him your idea’,” Turner told ICAC.
“I’ve got Minister (Ayres), I can’t do anything more for you. Here’s the Minister, you sell him what you want,” Turner quoted Maguire as saying in the call.
“I’ve got Stuart Ayres in town. You’ve got half an hour to sell him your idea” — Quotes attributed to Maguire
“So we – I had a half hour with Stuart Ayres on the – on the national ground and I explained to Stuart (Ayres) what it was all about and we intended to do, what we were looking at – at – at doing,” Turner told ICAC.
“He (Ayres) come (sic) back to me and he – he – was very sympathetic to what we were looking for but said really it didn’t fit with what he was – as the sports minister, but he would look into it from a tourism side of things as well and see what could be done,” Turner said.
“So about two weeks later I received a call from the (NSW) Office of Sport, from John Egan.”
Turner’s evidence to ICAC regarding Ayres and Maguire. Source: ICAC
Turner left the gun club in in late 2018, ACTA’s 2018 annual report shows.
According to his Facebook profile, Turner has since moved to the Gold Coast, where he now works for a different sporting business.
Turner did not respond to telephone calls and emails from The Klaxon.
He has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Maguire a “pain in the arse” Barilaro (top right) told ICAC Tuesday. Source: ICAC/ABC
Egan, of the NSW Office of Sport, has also given evidence to ICAC in a private hearing.
He is not accused of any wrongdoing.
John Barilaro, who announced his resignation as NSW Deputy Premier earlier this month citing personal reasons, three days after Berejiklian announced her resignation as Premier, is among those to have given evidence to ICAC.
Barilaro has told ICAC that the $5.5m ACTA grant was approved on August 28 2017.
That was two weeks after Ayres and Maguire visited the club and posed for the photographs with ACTA officials.
As previously revealed by The Klaxon, it was current NSW Premier, Dominic Perrottet, who as NSW Treasurer signed off on the grant in August 2017.
Perrottet, who has not been accused by ICAC of any wrongdoing, declined to provide an on-the-record quote.
The Australian Clay Target Shooting News, in its October 2017 article, about Ayres’ August 15, 2017 visit to the Wagga Wagga gun club, quotes the then NSW Sports Minister.
“NSW Sports Minister Stuart Ayres was recently in Wagga Wagga to cast his eyes over the finalised plans for the $7 million Australian Clay Target Association headquarters,” the article states.
“Mr Ayres said the facility…would add ‘another string to the bow’ of Wagga’s revered sporting reputation and provide the city’s shooting scene with a shot in the arm.”
More to come…
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