A last-minute secret side probe is responsible for the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption pushing back the findings of its investigation into Gladys Berejiklian until after the March 25 state election, documents reveal.
The ICAC put “additional submissions” to a secret “select part(y)” on October 6 last year, which was the day before NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet was due to respond to the NSW Parliament about his ties to the scandal.
The October 6, 2022, submissions came almost a year after public hearings ended and over five months after the watchdog provided submissions to — and received responses from — all other parties in the probe.
Under its legislation, once the ICAC has completed its public hearings it is required to put “submissions” — its “findings and recommendations” — to relevant parties for response. It then publishes its final report.
On January 11 the watchdog delivered the shock announcement that despite expectations, it was now unlikely to deliver the findings of its probe — dubbed Operation Keppel — until the “second quarter”, which starts the week after the March 25 NSW election.
The ICAC pointed to its workload, saying it had to deal with submissions “the last of which was received on 18 October 2022”.
“The last (submissions) were received on 18 October 2022” – ICAC
ICAC documents show submissions on a “discrete” issue were provided to a “select” party on October 6, with responses received from that party just under two weeks later, on October 18, 2022.
An examination of the ICAC’s updated submissions timetable, published on October 27, shows that by October 18, all other submission dealings had been wrapped up for over five months.
The ICAC received the last of the responses to all its other submissions on May 9.
Commissioner Ruth McColl SC. Source: Supplied
ICAC Commissioner Ruth McColl SC, who is overseeing Operation Keppel, refused to comment when asked what the October 6 submissions – which the ICAC is citing as a key reason for its latest delay – related to or who they involved.
“Commissioner McColl refused to comment on what the October 6 submissions related to”
The delay – its third to date – has attracted criticism, including from former NSW Supreme Court Judge Anthony Whealy KC – also a former ICAC assistant commissioner – who said it left a “black mark” over the agency.
Feb 15, 2022: ICAC provides “submissions” to relevant persons
Apr 27, 2022: ICAC provides “additional submission” to an unnamed party on “discrete” issue. Response received May 4
May 9, 2022: The “last of the responses” is received by ICAC
Oct 6, 2022: ICAC provides another “additional submission” to an unnamed party on “discrete” issue.
Oct 18, 2022: ICAC receives response to the “additional submission” on “discrete issue”
Oct 28, 2022: ICAC announces McColl’s tenure, due to end October 31, has been extended. No timeframe stated.
Jan 11, 2023: ICAC announces latest delay, cites “submissions, the last of which was received on 18 October 2022”
A major question mark around Operation Keppel is the ICAC’s lack of public scrutiny of NSW Premier, Dominic Perrottet.
Gladys Berejiklian, Perrottet’s predecessor, resigned as NSW premier in October 2021 after the ICAC announced she was a key focus of the probe.
Yet – as revealed by The Klaxon, it was Perrottet who personally – and illegally – approved the $5.5 million gun club grant at the centre 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.
How the ICAC’s latest delay, and media silence, benefits Perrottet. The Klaxon’s January 19 story.
The ICAC is required to hold its inquiries “in public” but it can hold part of an inquiry in private “if it considers this to be in the public interest”.
If it has probed Perrottet in secret that won’t be known until after it releases its findings, if at all.
The latest delay means many NSW voters will likely go to the March 25 poll unaware that the NSW Premier is directly tied to the scandal that felled his predecessor.
Operation Keppel had initially been focused on former NSW MP Daryl Maguire but was extended to include Berejiklian after it emerged the pair had been in a secret multi-year relationship.
Berejiklian is being investigated over whether she failed to report Maguire’s involvement in improper dealings and whether she abused her position to advance public projects to the benefit of Maguire, then the MP for Wagga Wagga.
She denies any wrongdoing.
At the heart of the probe is a $5.5m grant to the Australian Clay Targets Association and grant proposals involving the Riverina Conservatorium of Music, both in Wagga Wagga.
The Klaxon revealed in October 2021 that it was Perrottet, as NSW Treasurer in 2017, who signed off on the $5.5m gun club grant.
In July and August last year The Klaxon further revealed that not only had Perrottet approved the $5.5m grant, but that his doing so was illegal.
The money was disbursed from the Restart NSW Fund via a sub-fund called the Regional Growth – Environment and Tourism Fund (RGTEF).
As previously revealed, the project also failed to meet the criteria of the RGTEF, which explicitly prohibits projects which are “on private land and/or have exclusive private benefits”.
(The gun club project is in private land and has exclusive private benefits).
Perrottet refuses to answer Opposition questions. Source: The Klaxon
Penny Sharpe, Leader of the Opposition in the NSW upper house, put the series of detailed questions to Perrottet on September 14.
“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 12 years in office, the Premier and his ministers…believe that accountability doesn’t apply to them,” Sharpe said after Perrottet refused to answer the questions.
The ICAC’s submissions timetable shows there were two sets of “additional submissions” — one in April and one in October — but responses to the April submissions were received on May 4.
It says submissions were provide to “relevant persons” on February 15 last year, with the “last of the responses” received by May 9.
That was until October 6, when the ICAC issued submissions that were returned on October 18, over five months after all the others.
“Additional submissions were provided by the Commission to selected parties on discrete issues on 27 April 2022 and 6 October 2022,” the ICAC states.
Parties given “additional submissions” by ICAC in April 2022 and October 2022. Source: ICAC submissions timetable
Ruth McColl, a former NSW Court of Appeal judge, was appointed from outside the ICAC to oversee Operation Keppel, reportedly because of conflict of interest concerns, given the NSW premier signs off on the watchdog’s funding.
In July last year it was reported her term had been extended by six months, until October 31.
On October 28 (ten days after receiving the responses to its October 6 “additional submissions”) the ICAC announced McColl’s term had been extended again “for the purposes of her finalising the Operation Keppel report”. No timeframe was given.
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