NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian requested Wagga's clay target centre grant application be reassessed after it failed the criteria for a $5.5 million grant, newly released documents have revealed.
Ms Berejiklian's then boyfriend, Wagga MP Daryl Maguire, had advocated for the centre for years and the documents reveal he contacted her directly, in her prior role as treasurer, about the grant in early 2016.
Correspondence between senior government staff in June 2017 showed Ms Berejiklian requested the Department of Regional NSW reassess and update the clay target centre's business case after the first review found the grant would be a net loss to taxpayers.
On Monday, Ms Berejiklian said any suggestions she had a conflict of interest in the grant process were "absolutely ridiculous".
"All proper processes were followed and that's all I'll say on the matter," she said.
Documents handed over to NSW Parliament have shed new light on how Australian Clay Target Association's The Range centre on Wagga's Copland Street came to receive substantial state government funding.
The Greens have said Ms Berejiklian now has serious questions to answer about her role in the grant process and Labor said she should have declared a conflict of interest.
The conference and function centre was opened in October 2018, just five months after Mr Maguire resigned from the Liberal Party and Parliament in disgrace after the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) revealed phone taps of him seeking commissions from Sydney real estate deals.
In 2020, ICAC heard a company secretly controlled by Mr Maguire also earned a commission from the clay target centre's construction through a deal to import furniture from China.
Mr Maguire contacted Ms Berejiklian via a letter to her office as Treasurer on January 27, 2016 stating that he had been approached by the then Australian Clay Target Association chief executive Tony Turner in regard to funding for the new centre.
"Your advice will be appreciated," Mr Maguire stated.
Ms Berejiklian responded with a typed letter to which she added "dear Daryl" in her own handwriting.
"Thank you for bringing Mr Turner's request to the Government's attention," Ms Berejiklian stated.
The Daily Advertiser does not suggest that Mr Turner has engaged in corrupt activities and does not suggest that Mr Maguire, who did not respond to a request for comment, acted improperly in advocating for the centre.
Ms Berejiklian and Mr Maguire have both testified to ICAC that they were in a "close personal relationship" by the end of 2015.
Regional NSW executive director Chris Hanger wrote to Infrastructure NSW chief executive Jim Betts on June 1, 2017 seeking "review and consideration" for budget allocations for multiple projects and at the top of the list was Wagga's clay target centre.
"The Department's Investment Appraisal Unit (lAU) has assessed the updated business case provided by ACTA for the development of a large clubhouse / conference facility and associated infrastructure at their existing site in Wagga Wagga following a request by the Premier," Mr Hanger stated.
"The project is requesting $5.5M from the NSW Government. The project achieves a benefit/cost ratio of 1.10 and project benefits to NSW of $535,000."
In December 2016, a Investment Appraisal Unit Senior Analyst at the NSW Department of Industry had described the Wagga clay target centre's business case as "flawed".
The Investment Appraisal Unit determined that the Wagga clay target centre had a benefit/cost ratio of 0.88, which was below the threshold of 1.0 needed for funding approval.
At that point, staff members from the office of Deputy Premier John Barilaro became involved.
A senior policy adviser for Mr Barilaro emailed the clay target centre's project engineer to discuss how many of the projected visitors to the building might come from outside NSW, which would increase the forecast benefits to the state economy.
The NSW Department of Industry then used this figure for increased interstate visitors to revise its benefit/cost ratio from upwards from 0.88 to 1.10.
After the Investment Appraisal Unit accepted the revised benefit/cost ratio, Regional NSW deputy secretary Gary Barnes emailed colleagues noting that the "local member will be happy," seemingly referring to Mr Maguire.
Mr Barilaro's chief of staff replied that is was "music to my ears".
About a month later, Mr Barnes emailed Ms Berejiklian's deputy chief of staff, about the Clay Target Centre's progress towards securing a deed for $5.5 million in funding "as the local member has asked".
"Just wanted you in the loop given Premier's interest," Mr Barnes stated.
The Deputy Premier's office has been contacted for comment.
In March this year, Ms Berejiklian was asked at a budget estimates hearing about the clay target centre grant by Labor MLC John Graham.
"Why didn't you declare a conflict of interest over this funding reservation decision that you made as Treasurer, given it did involve Daryl Maguire?" Mr Graham asked.
Ms Berejiklian responded that is was the Treasurer's responsibility to make allocations to specific portfolios and then then the minister for that portfolio makes funding decisions.
"If you are suggesting that the Treasurer of the day personally signs off on every single funding allocation that is made, that is incorrect," she said.
"What the Treasurer of the day does is allocate dollars to relevant portfolios, to relevant Ministers to prioritise what is in their portfolios and to make decisions on what are worthwhile projects.
"That is the way in which government works."
Ms Berejiklian did not mention in that hearing any request she made to reassess the business case or her prior written contact with Mr Maguire about the grant.
The documents were handed over in response to a Parliamentary motion brought by Greens MLC David Shoebridge that demanded materials related to the Wagga clay target centre grant.
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Mr Shoebridge said the documents showed how the grant application was given "fresh numbers, fresh assumptions and a reworked business case" after if failed to demonstrate good value to taxpayers.
"These documents paint a very different picture to the impression we have received to date from the Coalition about the Premier's role in this $5.5 million grant," he said.
"The public deserves a full and unedited explanation about what role the Premier played throughout the life of this highly politicised grant," Mr Shoebridge said.
On Monday, Mr Graham said Ms Berejiklian still had questions to answer about the grants.
"These are very concerning signs of engagement in the grants process and the questions about it have gone totally unanswered; the Premier just hasn't clarified this in public and she needs to, and any minister would need to," he said.
"This is now a set of engagements with this grant, with it being reviewed and given, and it's clear that a conflict of interest should have been declared.
"Why wasn't there an interest declared? We just don't know because the Premier won't answer that question."
ICAC has reportedly demanded documents from government departments and political leaders' offices involved in the Wagga clay target centre grant.
The anti-corruption watchdog has declined to comment when asked to confirm or deny whether it was investigating the grant.
Ms Berejiklian appeared as a witness at ICAC last year, there is no evidence to suggest she is personally under investigation and she has not been subject to any adverse findings.
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