Gladys Berejiklian has accepted that her office deleted crucial documents that linked her to the pork barrelling scandal, but continues to maintain her innocence.

 

 

Gladys Berejiklian’s late 2020 pork barrelling-record shredding scandal continues to develop from strength to strength, as, on Friday, the NSW State Archives and Records (SARA) released its report into the Alleged Non-Compliant Disposal of Records Relating to the Stronger Communities Fund.

The inquiry found that the Office of the Premier breached laws governing state records when it shredded working advice notes. And while the documents weren’t destroyed on the “explicit instruction” of any staff member, the report asserts the office to be lacking in its recordkeeping.

The NSW premier’s office breached subsection 21(1) of the State Records Act 1988 (NSW), which makes it an offence for a person to abandon, dispose of, damage, alter or neglectfully cause the damage of a state record. The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of $5,500.

However, SARA won’t be prosecuting. The report states that “a prosecution of unauthorised disposal of state records is a labour-intensive activity that is almost certain to bring no improvement to recordkeeping or commitment to improving practices”.

According to Berejiklian, the scandal was not sinister, but rather a simple misunderstanding.

“I accept the recommendation that in their view it was based on a misunderstanding as opposed to anything systemic or sinister,” the premier told reporters on Monday.

“We will be accepting all of their recommendations.”

Ms Berejiklian said the report revealed the same matters may have arisen “unintentionally across government for many decades”.

But she declined to say if her office had unlawfully shredded documents on previous occasions.

“It’s an important time for us to accept the recommendations, update the handbook, make sure all staff – government, opposition, everybody – (are) aware of their responsibilities in relation to the archives,” the premier said.

An unashamed Ms Berejiklian later admitted the program was pork barrelling, stating: “it’s not an illegal practice.”

Berejiklian also deleted electronic copies of the documentation.

 

The pork barrelling scandal so far

Berejiklian’s office was found to have shredded and deleted at least three documents that were related to the distribution of $252 million in Stronger Communities Fund grants: 95% of which were allocated to councils in Coalition seats in the lead up to the last state election.

Chaired by NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge, the Public Accountability Committee inquiry into NSW government grant schemes was able to track down a number of documents relating to grant allocations that the premier had signed off on, which had simply disappeared.

The premier approved $141 million of the grants personally. The committee became aware of the documents as a senior staffer within the premier’s office had emailed the details of the approvals contained in the missing records to the Office of Local Government.

But when the details of these shredded documents were uncovered by a forensic data search and the information was released publicly in November last year, the NSW premier simply shrugged the implications off.

“All governments and all oppositions make commitments to the community in order to curry favour. That’s part of the political process whether we like it or not,” Berejiklian told the press. “It’s not an illegal practice. Unfortunately, it does happen from time to time by every government.”

 

Dodgy Gladys

In a statement following the release of the SARA report, Shoebridge noted that three briefing notes had been illegally destroyed by the premier’s office, although these are not likely to be the only documents disposed of in this manner as destroying such papers was regular office procedure.

The Greens justice spokesperson further made clear that the “documents were deliberately and illegally destroyed, and ignorance of the law is no defence”.

So, while Berejiklian’s first protestations around the scandal were that her actions and those of her staff were not illegal, it now seems that they were.

The report findings come on the back of recent revelations around the premier’s undisclosed relationship with disgraced former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, as well as her admission to participating in the pork barrelling scandal.

And this latest development certainly serves to strengthen the growing public perception that the leader of this state is corrupt.

 

 

 

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