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EXCLUSIVE

ANTHONY KLAN

Since deleted NSW Government “guidelines” for a $300 million investment fund show the Wagga Wagga gun club grant approved by 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 Klaxon on Wednesday revealed 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”.

 

The Klaxon’s expose on Wednesday.

 

Both the creation of the $300m fund and its investment criteria were approved at a meeting of the government’s Expenditure Review Committee (ERC) on February 28, 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 $300m RGTEF was the $5.5m 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, then just months later, approved the gun club grant from the fund – despite it expressly breaching that criteria.

Both the creation of the $300m fund and its investment criteria were approved at a meeting of the government’s Expenditure Review Committee (ERC) on February 28, 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 $300m RGTEF was the $5.5m 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, then just months later, approved the gun club grant from the fund – despite it expressly breaching that criteria.

“Perrottet approved the investment criteria for the fund, then approved the gun club grant from the fund – despite it expressly breaching that criteria”

 

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

The Klaxon has obtained a copy through 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 $5.5m grant was for a new club house 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.

 

Expressly not allowed: pages 6 and 9 of the since deleted document. Source: NSW Government/Wayback Machine

 

The “guidelines” document for the Regional RGETF includes a 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 says 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”.

 

Barilaro announces his new fund in March 2017. The 12-page document has since been deleted from the internet. Source: NSW Government/Wayback Machine

 

Illegal anyway

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

That’s because the $300m 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”.

 

Purposes for which Restart NSW Fund money can be legally used. 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 $5.5m grant was illegal.

When The Klaxon asked Perrottet to point to the “purpose” of the Act that the gun club grant satisfied, he declined, instead pointing us 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 $5.5m gun club grant, subject to four conditions.

 

The Klaxon’s expose. Source: The Klaxon

 

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 confirm’s The Klaxon’s expose 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 or the “eligibility criteria” set out in the document.

 

The ACTA gun club grant: sourced from the Restart NSW Fund.

 

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 guidlines” of the fund until the meeting on February 28, 2017, overseen by Perrottet.

 

Timeline:

Dec 2015 – Barilaro writes to MPs about his proposed new fund

Jan 2016 – Maguire writes to 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 $300m RGTEF fund, also approves its “criteria”, written by Barilaro

Aug 2017 – Perrottet approves $5.5m 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 Infrastructure NSW, 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 August 27, 2017.

Operation Keppel has not reported yet and so remains ongoing.

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