The fund used to make the $5.5 million Wagga Wagga gun club grant was only created – by Dominic Perrottet as NSW Treasurer – months before Perrottet personally approved the grant.
The Klaxon can also exclusively reveal the $5.5m grant to the Australian Clay Target Association to build a 1000-person convention centre and clubhouse was made almost a year before the NSW Government began “project contracting” the other projects in the fund.
The revelations come as former NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro fronted the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) today and agreed the $5.5m grant had been given priority and had not been required to compete with other projects for funding.
The grant to the Wagga Wagga-based gun club is the key focus of ICAC’s investigations in Operation Keppel, which began a second week of public hearings in Sydney today.
According to NSW Government documents, the $5.5m gun club grant was made from the “Regional Growth – Environment and Tourism Fund”, which is one of several smaller funds within the “Regional Growth Fund”, which is in turn part of the umbrella Restart NSW Fund.
In May this year, the NSW Government completed a 19-page “process evaluation” of round one of the “Regional Growth – Environment and Tourism Fund”, abbreviated as “RGETF”.
“Commencing implementation in March 2017, it is one of a suite of grants programs distributing $2 billion in NSW Government funding for regional infrastructure and community programs under the Regional Growth Fund,” the NSW Government document states.
“RGETF Round 1, the subject of this process evaluation, distributed $110.7 million to 32 projects through a competitive grants process.
“Project contracting by Infrastructure New South Wales (INSW) commenced in July 2018,” the document states.
Yet the $5.5m gun club grant was awarded, by Perrottet as Treasurer, in August 2017.
By July 2018, when “project contracting” commenced, the gun club convention centre and clubhouse development had already been completed for several months.
The development was completed in early 2018, before an international championship the Wagga Wagga-based gun club, hosted in March 2018.
It appears the $5.5m gun club grant was, almost certainly, the first grant made under the new “Regional Growth – Environment and Tourism Fund” – and by a long way.
As previously revealed by The Klaxon, the gun club property development contract was awarded to Kerry Pascoe, who has been on the Wagga Wagga City Council for the past 17 years, including eight years as Wagga Wagga mayor.
Pascoe did not respond to a series of questions from The Klaxon.
Earlier this month, Dominic Perrottet became NSW Premier after Gladys Berejiklian resigned when ICAC, on October 1, announced she was under investigation, including in relation to the $5.5m gun club grant.
Perrottet had been NSW Treasurer since January 2017.
He had largely avoided the fall-out of the gun club controversy, until The Klaxonlast week revealed Perrottet, as Treasurer, had been responsible for approving or rejecting the $5.5m gun club grant.
On Saturday The Klaxonrevealed it had been officially confirmed that Perrottet had personally given the $5.5m grant the green-light, approving it in August 2017, over six months after he became Treasurer.
ICAC is investigating former Wagga Wagga NSW MP Daryl Maguire and Gladys Berejiklian over the gun club grant and a grant to the Riverina Music Conservatory, also in Wagga Wagga.
In late 2020, in an earlier ICAC hearing, it emerged that Maguire and Berejiklian had been in secret romantic relationship from at least 2015 to August 2020.
ICAC has only named Maguire and Berejiklian as under investigation in the matter.
ICAC has made no findings and Berejiklian has previously denied any wrongdoing.
Perrottet has not been named as under investigation.
Maguire and Berejiklian before Maguire was forced to resign from NSW Parliament in disgrace in 2018. Source: Supplied
The NSW Premier declined to provide an on-the-record quote.
The precise circumstances around how the “Regional Growth – Environment and Tourism Fund”, from which Perrottet awarded the $5.5m grant in August 2017, came to exist remain unclear.
The ICAC hearings have uncovered a host of unusual circumstances around the awarding of the grant.
In December 2016, Berejiklian, as NSW Treasurer, took the gun club grant proposal to the NSW Government Expenditure Review Committee, which as Treasurer she chaired.
ICAC has heard Berejiklian did so despite a senior advisor to then NSW Premier Mike Baird saying the proposal should not be taken to the committee because it was “suss”.
The Expenditure Review Committee met on Wednesday December 14, 2016, and the gun club funding proposal was approved to progress to the next stage.
There were two key milestones in the awarding of the grant – the first was the Expenditure Review Committee and the second was when Perrottet, then NSW Treasurer, approved the grant in August 2017.
The Expenditure Review Committee approved the gun club grant to proceed to the next stage, but attached six conditions to the proposed grant, including that it be approved by the NSW Treasurer.
Weeks after the Expenditure Review Committee meeting, in January 2017, Baird resigned as NSW Premier, citing personal reasons.
Berejiklian became NSW Premier and she appointed Perrottet as NSW Treasurer.
Perrottet remained NSW Treasurer from January 2017 until three weeks ago when he became NSW Premier.
The December 2016 Expenditure Review Committee approval for funds to be set aside. Source: ICAC NSW
The “minute” officially recording the Expenditure Review Committee’s decision to progress the grant proposal to the next stage notes that the proposed grant “should be sourced from the Regional Growth – Environment and Tourism Fund”.
Why a “Regional Growth – Environment and Tourism Fund” is named, in December 2016, is unclear, because, as shown above, NSW Government documents state the fund only began “commencing implementation in March 2017”.
Another NSW Government document shows the Regional Growth Fund, of which the “Regional Growth – Environment and Tourism Fund” is part, was created in 2017.
There has been a lack of clarity around which actual department, or ministry, progressed the grant, but it is clear that it was ultimately approved by Perrottet as Treasurer, in his legislated role under the Restart NSW Act 2011.
Included in the heading of the minute from the December 2016 Expenditure Review Committee is “Minister for Sport”.
The Minister for Sport at the time was Stuart Ayres, who held that position from April 2015 to March 2019.
This month Perrottet appointed Ayres as Deputy Leader of the NSW Liberal Party.
Ayres gave appeared before ICAC last Friday and said he “can’t recall” having discussed the gun club funding with Berejiklian.
ICAC has not accused Ayres of any wrongdoing.
ICAC last week heard the NSW Office of Sport had not made the $5.5m grant, including because the grant fell outside the allowed parameters for NSW Office of Sport grants.
Documents released by ICAC last week show that the NSW Office of Sport had in July 2017 said it wanted “no involvement” the gun club funding.
An email on July 8, 2017, from NSW Infrastructure’s Jenny Davis, to seven colleagues across three NSW departments, said the NSW Office of Sport had said it “has no involvement at all” in the proposed grant.
“Michael Toohey (NSW Office of Sport director) has advised that the original ERC minute was not correct, and the Office of Sport has no involvement at all, and do not want any involvement in the funding,” Davis wrote.
“The project is unusual,” she wrote.
“The ERC (Expenditure Review Committee) minute approved it before we had ever heard of it.
“It does need the Treasurer to approve it” — Jenny Davis, Infrastructure NSW
“Our recommendation doesn’t need to go back to ERC, but it does need the Treasurer to approve it.”
The $5.5m grant was approved by Perrottet just weeks later, in August 2017.
The Wagga Wagga-based gun club allows entry to members of the public but is a private entity and is situated on land that it privately owns.
“We need to ensure that the funding goes to public infrastructure, not private assets on private land” — Jenny Davis, Infrastructure NSW
Maguire a “pain in the arse” Barilaro (top right) tells ICAC today. Source: ICAC/ABC
Fronting ICAC today, Barilaro was asked whether Maguire had been “quite vociferous in his advocacy of projects” that he “wanted to get across the line”.
“He was a very, very strong local member and someone that really didn’t let go, like a dog with a bone,” Barilaro said.
Barilaro agreed that the $5.5m gun club grant had been given priority and had not been required to compete with other projects for funding
Barilaro announced his resignation as NSW Deputy Premier three weeks ago, on Monday October 4, saying it was “the right time” and that “ten and half years is a long time in politics”.
That was three days after Berejiklian announced she would be resigning as NSW Premier.
In July 2019 the NSW Government released a 48-page document titled “Restart NSW, Local and Community Infrastructure Projects”.
It lists 626 “local and community infrastructure projects” that had “been awarded Restart NSW Funding”, totalling $1.5 billion.
As revealed by The Klaxon on Saturday, 92 of those projects were in the Riverina-Murray region, which includes Wagga Wagga, which is about 250km west of Canberra.
Of those 92 projects, the $5.5m gun club grant was the only grant that didn’t go to a government entity.
Of those 92 projects, 90 went to local councils in the region, mostly for new roads, and one went to the public Charles Sturt University – $1m to fund an equestrian centre.
The 626 project listed in the document all came from 12 sub-funds within the umbrella Restart NSW Fund.
At June 2019, five of those sub-funds remained active.
They included the “Fixing Country Roads” fund, from which most of the Riverina-Murray projects were awarded, all to local councils.
Another of the five sub-funds was the “Regional Growth – Environment and Tourism Fund”, which, as noted above, began “commencing implementation” just over two years earlier, in March 2017.
The document shows that at June 2019, the “Regional Growth – Environment and Tourism Fund” had made 46 grants across regional NSW.
Of those, 38 are listed with a status of “works underway” and seven are listed as “funding announced”.
Just one is listed as “complete” – the $5.5m Australian Clay Target Association gun club development in Wagga Wagga.
At June 2019, the gun club development had been complete for at least 15 months.
Also unusual is how the gun club grant is recorded in the document.
Unlike all other 621 projects in the document, the purpose of the grant is not included.
Under the heading “project”, a description is provided citing the purpose of the grant – such as “Vesper Street Widening”, “Federation Way Upgrade – North of Riverina Highway” and “Bombala Water Treatment Upgrade”.
For the gun club development, which by then had been fully complete for at least 15 months, the entry under project is the same as is listed under the heading “Funding Recipient”, simply “Australian Clay Target Association”.
Further evidencing how unusual the gun club grant was, and how far ahead all other projects in the fund, is another NSW Government document from over a year later.
The document states that in November last year, just three of the “Regional Growth – Environment and Tourism Fund” projects were complete.
“As as November 2020, three of these projects are complete, with 59 in various stages of development,” the document states.
“The Environment and Tourism Fund is now fully allocated”.
More to come…
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