Berejiklian’s late 2020 pork barrelling-record shredding scandal continues to develop from strength to strength, as, on Friday, the NSW State Archives and Records (SARA) released its report into the Alleged Non-Compliant Disposal of Records Relating to the Stronger Communities Fund.
The inquiry found that the Office of the Premier breached laws governing state records when it shredded working advice notes. And while the documents weren’t destroyed on the “explicit instruction” of any staff member, the report asserts the office to be lacking in its recordkeeping.
The NSW premier’s office breached subsection 21(1) of the State Records Act 1988 (NSW), which makes it an offence for a person to abandon, dispose of, damage, alter or neglectfully cause the damage of a state record. The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of $5,500.
However, SARA won’t be prosecuting. The report states that “a prosecution of unauthorised disposal of state records is a labour-intensive activity that is almost certain to bring no improvement to recordkeeping or commitment to improving practices”.
Pork barrelling? So what?
Berejiklian’s office was found to have shredded and deleted at least three documents that were related to the distribution of $252 million in Stronger Communities Fund grants: 95 percent of which were allocated to councils in Coalition seats in the lead up to the last state election.
Chaired by NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge, the Public Accountability Committee inquiry into NSW government grant schemes was able to track down a number of documents relating to grant allocations that the premier had signed off on, which had simply disappeared.
The premier approved $141 million of the grants personally. The committee became aware of the documents as a senior staffer within the premier’s office had emailed the details of the approvals contained in the missing records to the Office of Local Government.
But when the details of these shredded documents were uncovered by a forensic data search and the information was released publicly in November last year, the NSW premier simply shrugged the implications off.
“All governments and all oppositions make commitments to the community in order to curry favour. That’s part of the political process whether we like it or not,” Berejiklian told the press. “It’s not an illegal practice. Unfortunately, it does happen from time to time by every government.”
In a statement following the release of the SARA report, Shoebridge noted that three briefing notes had been illegally destroyed by the premier’s office, although these are not likely to be the only documents disposed of in this manner as destroying such papers was regular office procedure.
The Greens justice spokesperson further made clear that the “documents were deliberately and illegally destroyed, and ignorance of the law is no defence”.
So, while Berejiklian’s first protestations around the scandal were that her actions and those of her staff were not illegal, it now seems that they were.
The report’s findings come on the back of recent revelations around the premier’s undisclosed relationship with disgraced former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, as well as her admission to participating in the pork barrelling scandal.
And this latest development certainly serves to strengthen the growing public perception that the leader of this state is corrupt.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.