A former staffer who worked with Gladys Berejiklian and her ex-lover reacted with ‘shock’ and ’horror’ at a revelation about the pair.
Gladys Berejiklian used her power as treasurer to advance a money request championed by her secret lover, the NSW corruption watchdog has heard.
Ms Berejiklian, who was state treasurer between 2015 and 2017, requested that a bid for funding for a Wagga Wagga gun club be heard by a powerful committee that she chaired, and was said to be supportive of the request, according to an email tendered into evidence at the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
The December 6, 2016 email between two officials in the Treasury department referred to a conversation with a Berejiklian staffer who had said that “the treasurer has requested this be brought forward and has indicated an inclination to support the proposal”.
The official who wrote the email was issued a subpoena by the ICAC in March, which was made public at Tuesday’s public hearing.
The subpoena represents the earliest publicly known action by the ICAC in its investigation into Ms Berejiklian’s conduct in office and was sent the same month she sat through a fiery parliamentary hearing in which she faced a barrage of questions about Mr Maguire.
The Berejiklian staffer referenced in the email, Zach Bentley, was also revealed to have gone through a secret and compulsory interview with the ICAC in April.
A transcript from that interview revealed Mr Bentley – like most others in parliament – had no idea Ms Berejiklian and the MP for Wagga Wagga, Daryl Maguire, were in a close personal relationship while the funding negotiations were going on.
Mr Bentley told the ICAC he reacted with “shock” and ”horror” when he found out during the commission’s earlier public hearings in October last year.
“I received a text message during the course of Ms Berejiklian’s evidence, to which I spat my water out,” Mr Bentley said.
Counsel assisting the commission Scott Robertson replied: “Literally spat your water out?”
“Literally spat my water out,” Mr Bentley replied.
He said he was one of only a few parliamentary staffers who had worked for both Mr Maguire and Ms Berejiklian.
“I can’t express to you, Mr Robertson, my horror upon learning that,” he said.
“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.”
However, he could not remember why he would have said in the 2016 email that Ms Berejiklian supported the $5.5m funding request for the Australian Clay Target Association in Wagga Wagga.
Nor did he have any clue why Ms Berejiklian may have felt that way.
“I’m not familiar as to what her rationale was,” he said.
Tuesday’s evidence also contained a briefing note written by Mr Bentley for Ms Berejiklian, where he made reference to a meeting she’d had with Mr Maguire in November 2016.
“This issue came to head during a discussion I had with Daryl last week, prior to him meeting with you,” Mr Bentley wrote in the note to the then-treasurer.
The clay shooting club grant is a key issue being probed by the ICAC in relation to an allegation Ms Berejiklian’s relationship with Mr Maguire caused a conflict of interest.
The grant was approved by the cabinet’s expenditure review committee on December 14, 2016 and subsequently announced by Mr Maguire in a press release.
The MP surprised bureaucrats by breaking the news without revealing there were certain strings attached to the money.
Two senior bureaucrats in the Office of Sport took the witness stand at the ICAC on Monday and Tuesday, and both said the application process had appeared rushed and incomplete.
The Office of Sport was given just a day to prepare the draft, an “extremely unusual” deadline, the ICAC was told on Monday.
Former Office of Sport executive director Paul Doorn told the commission on Tuesday he and his colleagues “didn’t think (the project proposal) stacked up”.
Mr Doorn was asked by the counsel assisting the ICAC, Scott Robertson, if he would regard it as a “career-limiting move” to continue to advise a minister that a proposal was a ”bad idea”.
“Yeah, I think there comes a time when … you’ve been given a task by a minister, you’ve had a robust discussion … and then when the time comes you would present information that’s going to allow the minister to achieve his policy objective, in this case to try to find a way to get that funding,” he said.
Ms Berejiklian has earlier said she “always acted with the highest level of integrity”.
“In all decisions I’ve ever made as a minister or as premier of NSW, my first consideration has always been the wellbeing and welfare of the people of the state,” she said in her resignation speech.
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