NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet’s implication in one of the decade’s biggest political scandals will likely remain hidden from most voters until at least after the March state election thanks to a bureaucratic “delay”.
Perrottet’s predecessor, Gladys Berejiklian, resigned as NSW premier in October 2021 after spectacular revelations that she was a key focus of NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) probe Operation Keppel.
Yet, as revealed by The Klaxon, it was Perrottet who personally – and illegally – approved the $5.5 million gun club grant at the heart of the scandal.
That information has been kept from the public: the ICAC has failed to mention it entirely and the nation’s major media outlets have failed to cover the story.
If the ICAC has probed Perrottet in secret – which experts say is likely, given the circumstances – that will not be known publicly until after it releases its findings, if at all.
Last week the ICAC announced Operation Keppel’s findings would now almost certainly not be delivered until at least April 1 – a week after the March 25 election.
It is the third time Operation Keppel has been delayed.
The latest delay means much of the NSW electorate will likely go to the polls unaware that the NSW Premier – who they are being asked to elect for another four years – is directly tied to the scandal that felled his predecessor.
“The latest delay means means much of the electorate will likely go to the polls unaware that Perrottet is directly to the scandal”
Perrottet’s office has confirmed with The Klaxon that it was Perrottet, as NSW Treasurer, who personally signed off on the $5.5m grant to the Wagga Wagga-based Australian Clay Targets Association.
The Klaxon published the expose in October 2021 – yet no major media outlets covered the news.
In even more remarkable revelations – which Perrottet does not deny – his approving the grant was illegal.
Following The Klaxon’s revelations, the NSW Labor Opposition in September put detailed questions to Perrottet in parliament about him having approved the grant, and it being illegal for him to have done so.
The Premier refused to answer the questions.
The $5.5m grant was for a new “function centre” and club house at the Australian Clay Target Association, in Wagga Wagga NSW.
The grant is central to Operation Keppel because it was made after heavy lobbying by Daryl Maguire, the former NSW MP for Wagga Wagga.
The grant was made in 2017, when Perrottet was NSW Treasurer and Berejiklian was NSW Premier.
It later emerged that at that time, Berejiklian and the since disgraced Maguire had been in a multi-year secret relationship.
The ICAC has heard the $5.5m grant came from the multi-billion Restart NSW Fund.
Perrottet’s grant also expressly failed on another front.
The money was disbursed through the “Regional Growth Environment and Tourism Fund”, a subset of the Restart NSW Fund.
Yet it also failed to meet the Regional Growth Environment and Tourism Fund criteria – which directly precludes projects that are “on private land and/or have exclusive private benefits”.
The $5.5m project is on private land and has exclusive private benefits.
Perrottet refuses to answer Opposition questions. Source: The Klaxon
Leader of the Opposition in the NSW upper house, Penny Sharpe, put a series of questions to the NSW Premier about the grant in September, including which of the “purposes” of the Restart NSW Fund Act 2011 it met.
“How…(is it) possible that a grant that was not eligible under the Restart NSW Fund Act, nor the guidelines for the Regional Growth Environment and Tourism Fund, nor meet cost-benefit ratio requirements from Infrastructure NSW, was approved)?” Sharpe asked.
After taking the full allowable 21 days to respond, Perrottet answered none of the questions, and instead responded that questions should be “directed to the Treasurer”.
That’s despite the current NSW Treasurer, Matt Kean, having only held the position since October 2021 – over four years after Perrottet made the $5.5m grant.
Remarkably, no major traditional media outlet has covered the story.
“After 12 years in office, the Premier and his ministers are addicted to secrecy and believe that accountability doesn’t apply to them,” Sharpe told the Klaxon.
Perrottet has gone to considerable lengths to prevent the broader public being aware of his ties to the scandal.
Yet so too — seemingly — has the ICAC.
As part of Operation Keppel ICAC has conducted two public inquiries questioning 38 people across two years.
They include Berejiklian; numerous NSW MPs, including then NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro; former NSW Premier Mike Baird; current and former agency bosses; and members of the public.
It has published over 500 “exhibits” containing tens of thousands of documents: the “exhibit list” summary alone runs to 33 pages.
“It must be recognised that the report concerns complex matters of law and fact, two public inquiries proceeded over 30 days, over 2,800 pages of transcript, 516 exhibits comprising approximately 10,600 pages,” the ICAC stressed in its statement last week.
Yet the ICAC did not call Perrottet to give evidence at the public hearings.
And nowhere in the thousands of pages of publicly available exhibits or other documents is he named as having made the $5.5m gun club grant (or that he did so illegally).
Both the ICAC and Perrottet have repeatedly refused to comment when asked whether Perrottet had been approached to provide evidence.
In its statement last week, the ICAC said it was “now unlikely” that it would release the findings of Operation Keppel until the “second quarter”.
That’s despite the ICAC’s Operation Keppel public hearings ending well over a year ago; it having not published a single new document since March last year; and that the employment contract of the temporary commissioner overseeing the investigation, Ruth McColl SC, initially expired last year.
(In July last year it was reported McColl’s contract had been extended for six months, until October 31. In October it was announced her contract had been extended again, for an unstated period.).
Operation Keppel’s latest “delay” has raised concerns of potential political interference.
The delay benefits the Perrottet Government.
It has been mired in rolling corruption scandals in recent years – a fact the public will be reminded of when the report drops, regardless of whether Berejiklian is found to have engaged in wrongdoing (which experts say is unlikely).
Perrottet’s direct ties to the scandal – about which much of the NSW public remains in the dark – presents another major issue.
Questions The Klaxon put to ICAC temporary commissioner Ruth McColl this week.
The ICAC, at its discretion, conducts certain “sensitive” interviews in private.
It also heavily redacts many of the exhibits its publishes online.
Whether Perrottet has been probed — and to what extent — will only be known after the Operation Keppel report is released, if at all.
In the absence of the Operation Keppel’s findings – and the failure of major media outlets to report on Perrottet’s ties to the scandal – much of the public are likely to still be in the dark on March 25.
The Klaxon on Monday put a series of questions to McColl – including whether she or the ICAC had faced any political pressure to hold off releasing Operation Keppel’s findings.
She declined to comment.
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