Our pursuit of Gladys Berejiklian’s ties to a $252 million scandal culminates today, as her deleted emails must be presented to parliament. 

 

How we came to the point where a forensic expert has parliamentary backing to recover deleted files from Premier Glady Berejiklian’s computers tied to a quarter of a billion pork-barreling scandal tells us a lot about the NSW government and the critical need for independent oversight. 

In early 2020, we received an email from a constituent asking how it came that their council, Hunters Hill Council, had received a million dollars funding for a project without any apparent application process, public consultation or anything beyond an announcement. 

We started looking into it. 

The funding had come from the “Stronger Communities” fund but beyond this information, there was little information anywhere about it. There were no guidelines, no clear way for councils to apply for the funds, no list of successful applicants. The money appeared to have come from nowhere and been allocated to a curious mix of councils. 

So we started digging. We used Budget Estimates hearings to force the government to release the information. It turned out this was no small scheme, as the funds totalled almost $252 million

The analysis undertaken by my office of where the grants were allocated provided a startling result – 80% or more of the funds were allocated to councils in Coalition electorates, with almost all the funding provided just before the 2019 election. It was hard to see how it was consistent with the government’s own rules about how funds are allocated. It was a quarter of a billion-dollar rort. The word for a scheme like this is pork-barrelling.

Using the powers of the parliament, we obtained what they claimed were all the briefings, emails and material about the program. It was a surprisingly thin bundle of documents. The entire consideration process seemed to boil down to a few emails from ministerial advisors saying that funding had been approved by the Premier and Deputy Premier, often whopping amounts with $90 million to Hornsby Council alone. Of course, you can’t shovel out public money like this without a paper trail.

The government came into parliament and told us no documents existed about the scheme beyond those few emails. 

That so much money was allocated without even a list of eligible projects seemed implausible at best. The Parliamentary Committee I chair summonsed the advisors in question hoping to get more information, and did we ever. 

 

The evidence the committee heard is that there were briefing notes which the Premier received and indicated her position on. These were shredded and the originals deleted. We were told the practice was part of the Premier’s “standard document management procedures”. 

 

The evidence the committee heard is that there were briefing notes which the Premier received and indicated her position on. These were shredded and the originals deleted. We were told the practice was part of the Premier’s “standard document management procedures”. 

When asked about their obligations under the State Records Act 1998 it was claimed that the two-line email saying “this is approved” is an equivalent record to these detailed marked-up working advice notes. I’m happy to report that the other members of the NSW Parliament agreed with the Greens that this was less than satisfactory.

Experts have told us repeatedly that it’s very hard to actually delete a document and that the originals are still there waiting to be found. Last week, we managed to force the Berejiklian government to undertake a forensic document recovery process to get these files back. They must be presented to Parliament by midday today.

I’m hopeful, but far from certain, this will be the end of it, but what we already know is that this is a government with a lot to hide. Let’s hope we finally get some answers. 

 

 

 

 

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