Evidence presented to an anti-corruption hearing has revealed a scramble to prepare $20.5 million during Wagga's 2018 byelection for a "very lavish" music recital hall.
An invoice also showed that the NSW government spent nearly $67,000 to produce and then revise a private organisation's business case for a $5.5 million clay target function centre for Wagga.
Department of Regional NSW secretary Gary Barnes appeared for a second time at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Wednesday around his role in $35.5 million of grants to Wagga institutions.
ICAC is investigating allegations against former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian that she had a conflict of interest via those grants awarded while she was in a close personal relationship with former Wagga MP Daryl Maguire.
Mr Barnes told ICAC that Ms Berejiklian had a "particular interest" in the clay target function centre proposal and it was "unusual" for the government to fund the Australian Clay Target Association's business case for the grant.
Mr Barnes said a person in the Deputy Premier's office told him that "Daryl [Maguire] was well regarded by the premier, someone who understood the bush as a Liberal party person and who had the ear of the premier".
The Riverina Conservatorium of Music made an "unsolicited proposal" for $10 million to move from the old Charles Sturt University campus to an RTA building in Simmons Street in Wagga, and for a further $20 million to build a recital hall at the new location.
Mr Barnes said he was made aware of these proposals in the middle of 2017 and he considered the recital hall element "very lavish".
"The Premier's office encouraged me to come and look at these things first-hand so I could provide them with advice," Mr Barnes told ICAC.
Mr Barnes said this encouragement led to him visiting the Riverina Conservatorium of Music's proposed new site in Wagga in November 2017 along with Mr Maguire and Wagga City Council staff.
In an official briefing to Ms Berejiklian as Premier, Mr Barnes advised the government support the $10 million move to a new building but not the recital hall.
A separate ICAC inquiry in July 2018 then forced Mr Maguire to resign from Parliament, triggering a byelection in Wagga.
ICAC was shown emails from August 2018, which were copied to Mr Barnes, in which the Department of regional NSW executive director stated "the Premier is keen to announce this Friday that $20.5m funding has been reserved for the Recital Hall component of Stage two of the Wagga project".
Mr Barnes told ICAC the department's staff were "asked to move very quickly" on paperwork for the $20.5 million, which was later withdrawn this year after further evaluation.
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In response to questions from Ms Berejiklian's solicitor at ICAC, Mr Barnes said getting funding from Infrastructure NSW or Restart NSW for the clay target centre had "lots of checks and balances" and they were looking to stimulate the economy during the drought.
Mr Barnes said he did not speak directly with Premier Berejiklian or her chief of staff about whether she had a particular interest in the clay target centre.
The Riverina Conservatorium of Music and the Australian Clay Target Association have not been accused of wrongdoing.
Mr Maguire is due to appear at ICAC on Thursday.
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