Gladys Berejiklian's own officials initially advised against setting aside funds for grant pursued by Daryl Maguire
Gladys Berejiklian's own Treasury officials appear to have initially advised against setting aside $5.5 million for a grant pursued by Daryl Maguire, but the grant was later approved and came from a fund overseen by Ms Berejiklian, according to an internal government memo obtained by 7.30.
Last year 7.30 revealed that Ms Berejiklian oversaw a fund that set aside $5.5 million for the Australian Clay Target Association [ACTA] clubhouse and convention centre in Wagga Wagga when she was state treasurer.
Those revelations raised fresh questions about the Premier's role in facilitating grants in Mr Maguire's electorate, where he stood to gain a political benefit, and whether Ms Berejiklian ever declared a personal conflict of interest during the grant process.
After 7.30 first revealed details of the clay shooting grant in December last year, ICAC announced it was undertaking further investigation into Mr Maguire, who is currently the subject of an extensive probe into his business dealings.
Last month 7.30 also revealed that Ms Berejiklian intervened in the assessment of the $5.5 million grant and that Mr Maguire had written to Ms Berejiklian asking for her assistance to fund the project.
Since then the Premier has faced a number of questions at her daily press conferences about the ICAC investigation and whether she is a person of interest in the inquiry, which she has denied.
The circumstances of a December 2016 Expenditure Review Committee meeting where the funding was set aside — which Ms Berejiklian would have ordinarily chaired as treasurer — have become a source of intense political interest.
Legal experts have previously told 7.30 that if the Premier approved a funding reservation for the project at that meeting, it may amount to a conflict of interest.
The Premier has previously said her relationship with Mr Maguire was not of "sufficient status to" require disclosure.
7.30's questions about the grant last year sparked a flurry of internal government queries, with various government officials seeking to understand how the grant had been approved, after a submission was put forward by the Office of Sport while Stuart Ayres was sports minister.
In one document from December 2 last year, released in response to a call for papers from Greens MLC David Shoebridge, the NSW Treasury's director of communications drafted a timeline of the events in order to respond to 7.30's queries.
That timeline suggests the grant submission first came to the Expenditure Review Committee [ERC] from the Office of Sport, where it was considered for a funding reservation.
The timeline states: "Treasury advice — sub not supported".
The next bullet point lists "ERC approved funding — from the Restart Fund".
It is unclear why Treasury officials did not support the submission for the ACTA grant.
In a statement a NSW Treasury spokesperson said: "It is the role of NSW Treasury to provide advice to the NSW Government."
"It is not appropriate to discuss cabinet-in-confidence information."
The timeline appears to have mis-stated the date of the ACTA funding reservation to December 2017, when it was in fact December 2016.
At the time the funding reservation was under consideration, Ms Berejiklian, as NSW treasurer, oversaw the Restart Fund.
7.30 put detailed questions to Ms Berejiklian about the circumstances of the ERC meeting and whether the timeline accurately set out the advice from her officials not to support the submission.
The Premier has previously said in response to questions about the funding reservation decision: "I understand all those arrangements went through the normal processes. I don't intervene in those processes.
"As treasurer, you oversee all funds that are obviously going through but that is up to the relevant minister and I wasn't the relevant minister."
Sports minister did not support funding project
Mr Maguire first wrote to Ms Berejiklian on behalf of the then-CEO of the Clay Target Association on January 27, 2016, seeking funding from the NSW government.
Ms Berejiklian's response on February 18, 2016, referred him to then-sports minister Mr Ayres: "The Minister will respond to you on behalf of the NSW Government. Thank you for bringing Mr Turner's request to the Government's attention."
7.30 can also reveal that Mr Ayres initially declined to support grant funding for the project.
In a March 14, 2016 letter to Mr Maguire he wrote: "The project falls outside the scope of current Sport and Recreation funding programs, as the funding amount sought is in excess of the maximum amount available under current grant programs."
It is unclear why the Office of Sport subsequently chose to support a funding submission for the ACTA grant and put one forward to the ERC.
A spokeswoman for Mr Ayres said: "Unfortunately we are not in a position to comment on this enquiry."
Officials won't comment on matters 'clearly under investigation'
In an estimates hearing last month, officials from the Department of Premier and Cabinet confirmed for the first time the clay target grant was under investigation by ICAC.
During the estimates hearing in the NSW Upper House, Greens MLC David Shoebridge questioned Kate Boyd, a deputy secretary with the Department of Premier and Cabinet, about the grant process.
"I don't think it would be appropriate for us to comment on the substance of matters that are clearly currently under investigation by the ICAC," Ms Boyd said.
"I believe this matter is one of them, so I would ask that you defer any questions on that."
There is no suggestion that the Premier herself is the focus of those further inquiries.
A spokeswoman for the Premier has previously said in a statement: "The Premier was not under investigation nor was she an adversely affected person for the purpose of the [ICAC] investigation.
"The record will show that the Premier has been cooperative with the ICAC investigation and assisting it when requested to do so.
"As you have noted, ICAC led evidence from witnesses in relation to the connection between Mr Maguire and the Australian Clay Target Association (ACTA). That was not the subject of any questioning of the Premier."
The Australian reported today that Deputy Premier John Barilaro had been called to a private examination by ICAC in relation to the grant, and that Mr Ayres had also been called to give evidence.
There is no suggestion either minister is under investigation by ICAC.
Clay target club warns members not to speak with reporters
The Wagga Wagga-based Australian Clay Target Association received a notice from ICAC in March this year to produce documents relating to the grant and the development project.
In July this year its current CEO Paul Gilbert — who was not an executive member of the club at any stage of the grant process in 2016 or 2017 — emailed a number of members of the ACTA warning them against speaking to 7.30.
"It has become apparent that the ABC's 7.30 Report reporter, Paul Farrell, is currently seeking interviews with past ACTA Executive / Building Committee members RE: funding of the Range Function Centre," he wrote.
"Our solicitor's advice is simple: please address this person, or any other reporter that might contact you for an interview in the following manner:
"As this matter is currently under investigation by ICAC it is not appropriate for me to make any comment at the present time and I therefore decline to do so."
The ICAC told 7.30 it does not comment on active investigations.
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