Premier Gladys Berejiklian has attracted media headlines yet again as the New South Wales parliamentary inquiry into the allocation of government grants heard fresh reports of corruption.
The inquiry into the Integrity, Efficacy and Value for Money of NSW Government Grant Programs heard that the Premier approved a $20 million grant in Wagga Wagga without going through the required approval process.
Moreover, the grant was announced during the Wagga Wagga by-election that was sparked by the resignation of Daryl Maguire over corruption claims; Mr Maguire is, of course, the person with which Ms Berejiklian had a ‘secret relationship’ during that time.
Earlier this week, the parliamentary inquiry heard evidence from the deputy secretary of the Public Works Advisory, Chris Hanger.
Mr Hanger told the inquiry that there was no written approval process for the reservation of the additional $20 million funding, although the money was intended to continue work on an already committed $10 million redevelopment of the conservatorium.
Mr Hanger told the hearing it was ‘unusual’ for money from the Regional Growth Fund to be reserved without a formal application…. “But that doesn’t stop the government from reserving funding so that people like a conservatorium … when they put together a business case that meets the criteria, they have knowledge the funding will be there.”
He also told the inquiry that public servants were told the business case would be submitted, but it has never appeared.
Despite an investigation by the State Archives and Records Authority (the ‘SARA’) finding last month that that the New South Wales Premier’s office broke the law when staff shredded documents relating to the allocation of $252 million in grant money from the Stronger Communities Fund, no one is likely to face prosecution.
Under the State Records Act 1988, Section 11 requires public officers to retain state records.
Section 21 of the State Records Act 1998 states that a person must not “abandon or dispose of a State record”, nor “damage or alter a State record.”
Report after report
But as the parliamentary inquiry continues, the allegations against the Premier of corruption and nepotism are becoming harder to ignore.
The inquiry has already heard that six grants from the Stronger Communities Fund were awarded to projects in the electorate of Wagga Wagga in 2017 during the time the Premier was in a relationship with Daryl Maguire, and during his tenure as MP for the electorate.
Daryl Maguire who is no longer working in the New South Wales Government, is currently being investigated by the Independent Anti-Corruption Commission (ICAC) for the second time over business dealings during his time as an MP, which delivered him financial gain.
There have also been questions raised about how much Ms Berejiklian knew about Mr Maguire’s questionable business dealings, along with allegations that she turned a ‘blind eye’, breaching her legal obligation to report what she knew. These are accusations the Premier has strongly denied.
Calls for accountability
But these latest revelations have again called her integrity into question, and sparked calls for her resignation or, alternatively to finally give the New South Wales voting public real answers about the how decisions are made with regard to grant allocations, and also why documents were destroyed.
All of the revelations coming from the inquiry beg the question – is there something to hide? The New South Wales public deserves an answer. These funds are after all, taxpayer money.
Riding high on the back of popularity for her strong leadership during last year’s bushfires and the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Brejiklian seems to be relying on her current favourable standing to deflect the scandals that are befalling her.
Many are of the view that the Premier has held the fort in a time of crisis, but leadership is her job, and with that role comes an expectation from the voting public of integrity, responsibility, transparency and accountability.
In the meantime, the ICAC inquiry continues, the NSW Parliamentary inquiry continues and the New South Wales voters continue to wonder just how much longer Ms Berejiklian can and will remain the State Premier.