An explosive memo from a top government adviser saying ‘WTF’ has rocked the Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into whether Gladys Berejiklian breached the public trust.
In a memo to then Premier Mike Baird dated December 12, 2016, Nigel Blunden sarcastically referred to a proposal to fund a clay target shooting venture backed by Ms Berejiklian’s then secret boyfriend Daryl Maguire as the ‘Maguire international shooting centre of excellence.’
‘As Joel Goodson (the character Tom Cruise played in the 1983 film Risky Business) would say, sometimes you have to say WTF,’ Mr Blunden said in the memo.
Mr Blunden added in the memo that ‘Daryl fired up and Gladys put it back on’ the agenda.
In the recommendation section of his memo, Mr Blunden wrote ‘Oppose. Gladys and Ayres want it. No doubt they’ve done a sweetheart deal with Daryl, but this goes against all of the principles of sound economic management.’
He said he was troubled by the ‘lack of appropriate business case’ for funding an upgrade of the Wagga Wagga gun club.
‘At the very least let’s target one of our marginal seats, not one of our safest,’ Mr Blunden said in the memo to Mr Baird.
Gladys Berejiklian leaves her home on Sydney’s leafy north shore on Wednesday morning as in inquiry into her continues at the Independent Commission Against Corruption
At the time, the proposal had not been independently reviewed and no feasibility study had been done.
The memo was written two days before ERC considered the proposal and ultimately gave the association $5.5 million – a decision which is now at the centre of the investigation into the ousted leader.
In a December 6, 2016 email shown at the ICAC, Mr Blunden asked co-workers about an Australian Clay Target Association (ACTA) funding proposal which was being backed by Mr Maguire.
‘Gents, are we aware of this one – seems like a lot of $$$,’ the email said.
‘This was the first I’d heard of a submission being put to the ERC [expenditure review committee],’ Mr Blunden told the ICAC.
As the then Treasurer, Ms Berejiklian was also chair of the ERC.
ICAC is investigating whether Ms Berejiklian
1. Engaged in conduct between 2012 and 2018 that was ‘liable to allow or encourage the occurrence of corrupt conduct’ by former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, with whom she was in a close personal relationship between 2015 and 2018
2. Exercised her official functions dishonestly or partially by refusing to exercise her duty to report any reasonable suspicions about Mr Maguire to the ICAC
3. Exercised any of her official functions partially in connection with two multimillion-dollar grants in Mr Maguire’s electorate, to the Australian Clay Target Association Inc and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music.
Mr Blunden, who now works for the federal Department of Health in Canberra, said the time allowed for considering the proposal ‘seemed quite tight’. He said usually there was a two week period between lodging a funding submission and it being considered by the ERC.
But in this case, the gun club funding proposal was lodged on December 6, to be considered on December 14.
In a further email, Mr Blunden said: ‘Let’s hold this one until the business case is finalised and do it once.’
He told the ICAC it was better to have a ‘fully rigorous business case’ before proposals were submitted to the ERC.
But on December 8, 2016, an email entered into evidence to ICAC on Wednesday suggested the ‘PO (Premier Mike Baird’s Office) is happy for this to progress’.
Asked what changed in just two days, Mr Blunden said ‘Reflecting on that, I’d be speculating. I’m not aware of what may have happened in those couple of days.’
Asked if he gave Mr Baird ‘fairly forthright’ advice about the merits of the ACTA proposal, Mr Blunden said: ‘Forthright, robust, yes.’
In a memo dated December 12, 2016, Mr Blunden sarcastically referred to the proposed ‘Maguire international shooting centre of excellence.’
‘As Joel Goodson (the character Tom Cruise played in the 1983 film Risky Business) would say, sometimes you have to say WTF,’ Mr Blunden said.
At the time, the proposal had not been independently reviewed and no feasibility study had been done.
The memo was written two days before ERC considered the proposal and ultimately gave the association $5.5 million.
The revelation of former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian’s (pictured left) secret relationship with Daryl Maguire (right) was so shocking it caused one of her advisers to spit out the water he was drinking
It comes after a former adviser to Gladys Berejiklian was so shocked to learn of her secret affair with disgraced ex-Liberal MP Daryl Maguire that he spat out the water he was drinking.
Zach Bentley gave sworn testimony to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption six months ago, but it has been suppressed until now.
The ICAC is investigating if between 2013 and 2018 the former NSW premier engaged in conduct that constituted or involved a breach of public trust.
As the corruption commission builds its case against Ms Berejiklian before her highly anticipated appearance next week, late last night the watchdog released the transcript of an interview with Mr Bentley, a former close adviser to her.
Counsel for ICAC, Scott Robertson SC asked Mr Bentley on April 29 when did he ‘first become aware of the existence of, to use Ms Berejiklian’s phrase, or at least the phrase that she adopted, close personal relationship?’
‘When I received a text message during the course of Ms Berejiklian’s evidence, to which I spat my water out,’ Mr Bentley replied. Mr Robertson asked if he ‘literally spat your water out?’
Asked if he was shocked at the revelation, Mr Bentley said ‘I can’t express to you, Mr Robertson, my horror upon learning that.
‘Not horror, sir, but more, these are two people I’ve known quite well and the fact that I had no knowledge of it, like, yeah, it was quite shocking.’
The extent of how secretive the affair between Ms Berejiklian and Mr Maguire was laid bare when Mr Bentley was asked if there were any ‘rumours circulating in the corridors of power as to the existence of such a relationship?’
‘I can’t stress to you the number of people who have asked me whether I knew or suspected anything, given that I’m the only person who’s worked for, actually one of only two that have worked for the two of them. At no point in time did I ever suspect that they were in a relationship,’ said Mr Bentley.
A concerned looking Gladys Berejiklian will front the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption next week
Asked if he would have performed his duties as an adviser differently if he had known of the relationship, Mr Bentley answered that Ms Berejiklian is ‘very good at siloing certain components of her life, so … I don’t know whether I would have acted differently.’
He added: ‘I must say, Mr Robertson, and you surely appreciate this by now through the hearings, (ministerial) staff, by and large, acted … at the direction of their particular principal.’
Pressed by Mr Robertson if he would have done anything differently if he’d known that his boss and Mr Maguire were in a relationship at the time she was backing a pet project of his in his constituency of Wagga Wagga, Mr Bentley replied ‘No, I don’t believe so.’
Former NSW premier Mike Baird (pictured right) is set to appear before the ICAC inquiry into another former NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian (pictured left)
In another email entered into evidence at the ICAC, the chief of staff to the then NSW Sport Minister, Stuart Ayres, said ‘Wagga Wagga is pushing the barrow’ on a proposal to fund upgrades to a gun club in that electorate.
Mr Blunden took this to be a reference meaning the then Wagga Wagga MP, Daryl Maguire was backing the project, but this was not unusual because ‘members of parliament are elected to advocate for their electorates’.
Mr Ayres, who is due to give evidence at the ICAC later this week is not accused of any wrongdoing.
Assisting counsel Scott Robertson arrives at the Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing in Sydney. ICAC is in its first week of hearings into whether former premier Gladys Berejiklian breached public trust
Dominic Perrottet, who replaced Ms Berejiklian as NSW Premier after her resignation on October 1, was asked this morning if he was aware of any concerns about the $5.5 million grant by the state government to ACTA in 2016.
The grant is one of two ‘case studies’ being examined by the ICAC in this inquiry.
‘I was not aware of any concern,’ Mr Perrottet said, adding that he would not be giving a running commentary on the ICAC proceedings.
A seemingly bland, 18-word email is causing difficulties for former NSW premier Gladys Berjiklian
Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian (front) and her former boyfriend Daryl Maguire
Mr Doorn said he recalled that in conversations with a colleague, Michael Toohey (who gave evidence on Monday) in late 2016, that they had ‘concerns’ about the project and how they might ‘safeguard the government’.
He later added that ‘Perhaps compared to other projects it just lacked the detail.’
The commission heard repeated evidence that the Australian Clay Target Association proposal seemed to lack value to the state.
‘It would have been towards bottom’ in priority, Mr Doorn said, while an email from another public servant said the previous time ACTA sought funding was rated the lowest of 15 proposals in 2013-14 and not funded.
ICAC also heard that a feasibility study option ‘disappeared’ from the second draft of a funding submission for a grant for the ACTA.
The initial draft featured two potential recommendations. The first was to approve a grant of $500,000 for a feasibility study for upgrading facilities, and the second was to approve a grant of $6.7 million to develop a large clubhouse.
Ms Berejiklian has repeatedly, strenuously denied any wrongdoing and said she always acted in the best interests of the people of NSW.
The Australian Clay Target Association is part of an ICAC inquiry into former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian
Gladys Berejiklian (pictured right) is under investigation by ICAC for her conduct while NSW premier in relation to her former boyfriend, ex-MP Daryl Maguire (pictured left)