Saturday 31 October 2020

Cartoon of the Week

Cathy Wilcox
on the day after the funeral of veteran broadcaster Paul Murphy


Tweets of the Week


Friday 30 October 2020

Just what one would expect from a Lib-Nats government - a decision with minimum community consultation to herd at least 1,500 regional kindergarten to high school students in the one campus with likely teacher losses

Doesn’t this sound grand? A $100 million mega campus for all of the Murwillumbah area, merging students from kindergarten to high school……

Echo NetDaily, 28 October 2020:

Murwillumbah’s four public schools will be amalgamated into a single Kindergarten to Year 12 campus at Murwillumbah High, the state government has annouced.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Education Minister Sarah Mitchell announced today that Murwillumbah Public School, Murwillumbah East Public School, Murwillumbah High School and Wollumbin High School will be combined to form a single $100 million Murwillumbah Education Campus.

Ms Mitchell said the new mega school would cater to up to 1,500 students, and follow a four-year rebuilding project.

She pledged that no permanent teaching jobs would be lost, and spruiked the ‘community benefits’ of the plan, including the possible joint use of sporting, arts and health facilities.

The new Murwillumbah Education Campus will truly be at the heart of the community, and I look forward to seeing it take shape over the next few years,’ Ms Mitchell said…..

This announcement of a major school merger in the Northern Rivers took the local community by surprise and this appears to have been the plan all along according to the government's own time table which had the two primary school communities only informed by email on the day of the announcement. 

Possibly the lack of early warning was intended to mute the initial response of the teacher's union to the fact that this merger will inevitably see a reduction in teacher numbers once the school merger is completed. 

NSW Labor MP for Lismore Janelle Saffin, Shadow Minister for the North Coast Adam Searle and Shadow Minister for Education Pru Car are concerned with aspects of this merger, which probably consume more of the Berejiklian Government’s time than the creation of a new campus - the chance to sell off state property assets and the chance to reduce public education staffing levels.

Excerpt for a NSW Labor joint media release, 28 October 2020:

Without warning, the Liberals and Nationals will force Murwillumbah Public School, Murwillumbah East Public School and Wollumbin High School to close and move into a single campus at Murwillumbah High School.

Department of Education documents obtained through the Upper House reveals that the amalgamation of four schools in 2024 will change the staffing allocation and potentially displace teaching and support staff.

The Liberals and Nationals promised an upgrade of Murwillumbah East Public School before the last election. Instead, they will now abandon their promise and close the school completely.

Closing schools is the last thing the Liberals and Nationals should be doing. This is a betrayal of the community. They are robbing future generations of quality public schools in their communities,” Ms Car said.

This announcement will rob the North Coast of three public school campuses, with a mega-school increasing school travel times for residents and reducing green space.”

Shadow Minister for the North Coast Adam Searle MLC said: “Now we know why the Premier and the National Party have been stalling on replacing the library and classrooms lost at Murwillumbah East Public School in the floods.

Despite all their hollow promises, it seems that yet more privatisation is their true agenda, not delivering for students and families in Murwillumbah.

This decision has been made without consultation. It has all the signs of a dirty land deal, and is not about improving educational outcomes.”

State Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin said: “I am seeking a guarantee from the NSW Government that all current teaching and support staff jobs will be retained.

This cannot be a cruel cost-cutting exercise,” Ms Saffin said.

I am also seeking a guarantee that public land stays in public hands and is not flogged off to private developers.”

Ms. Saffin also expanded on her views in another media release on the same day: was a shame Mr Barilaro, as Leader of the NSW Nationals, did not take the opportunity while visiting Murwillumbah to make the following announcements for the town and our region:

A $45-million local business support fund for those impacted by the border closures, as he did for the NSW southern border businesses impacted by border closures.

The Nationals’ election promise to provide 280 more nurses, 32 doctors, 38 allied health staff and 50 more hospital workers with some for Murwillumbah Hospital.

The restoration of major contracts to our local businesses, who recently lost their contracts under Mr Barilaro’s big city-big company procurement policy, to remove waste from our Health, TAFE and caravan parks on Crown reserves.

The upgrade of the Voluntary Buyback House scheme to help with flood protection.

The upgrade to a 24/7 police presence in Murwillumbah.

The reopening of the Murwillumbah Women’s Refuge closed by the Nationals.

The restoration of the Murwillumbah Court services closed by the Nationals.

The announcement of our region’s share of the unspent $1.7 billion Restart NSW Fund, as promised by the Nationals.

Reversing the new practice of Essential Energy ‘gifting’ power poles to farmers and private landholders, which they must pay to maintain if deemed unsafe. 

Thursday 29 October 2020

Meet the Clarence Valley's very own Koala Killer - Nationals MP for Clarence Chris Gulaptis

Grafton NSW, October 2020
Image used in meme from Clarence Valley Independent community newspaper, 28.10.20


See "NSW Nationals MP Chris Gulaptis boasts of his betrayal of his electorate" at

Want to know if your local state MP voted to drive the koala to extinction in New South Wales? Names and electorates are noted here


 Koala resting, Bangalow area NSW
Northern Rivers Community Foundation

In early September 2020 the NSW Nationals parliamentary party threatened to leave the Berejiklian Coalition Government and move to the Independent benches in the NSW Legislative Assembly, the Lower House of the NSW Parliament, if the NSW Liberal parliamentary party did not agree to effectively gut State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection) 2019.

Although there were only 12 members of the National Party sitting in the Legislative Assembly, Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian caved into this threatening political posturing within days.

On 21 October 2020 members of the NSW Berejiklian Government in the Lower House voted on the Local Land Services Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2020.

All the National Party members of the NSW Legislative Assembly were present for the vote.

This is the Hansard record of that final third reading vote placed in alphabetical order with members’ electorates identified:


Anderson, K – Nationals (Tamworth electorate)

Barilaro, J – Nationals (Monaro electorate)

Bromhead, S – Nationals (Myall Lakes electorate)

Cooke, S (teller) – Nationals (Cootamundra electorate)

Gulaptis, C – Nationals (Clarence electorate)

Johnsen, M – Nationals (Upper Hunter electorate)

Marshall, A – Nationals (Northern Tablelands electorate)

Pavey, M – Nationals (Oxley electorate)

Provest, G -Nationals (Tweed electorate)

Saunders, D – Nationals (Dubbo electorate)

Singh, G – Nationals (Coffs Harbour electorate)

Toole, P – Nationals (Bathurst electorate)

Ayres, S – Liberal (Penrith electorate)

Berejiklian, G – Liberal (Willoughby electorate)

Clancy, J – Liberal (Albury electorate)

Conolly, K – Liberal (Riverstone electorate)

Constance, A – Liberal (Bega electorate)

Coure, M – Liberal (Oatley electorate)

Crouch, A (teller) – Liberal (Terrigal electorate)

Davies, T – Liberal ( electorate)

Dominello, V – Liberal (Ryde electorate)

Elliot, D – Liberal (Baulkham electorate)

Evans, L - Liberal (Heathcoast electorate)

Gibbons, M – Liberal (Holsworthy electorate)

Griffin, J – Liberal (Manly electorate)

Hancock, S – Liberal (South Coast electorate)

Hazzard, B – Liberal (Wakehurst electorate)

Henskens, A – Liberal (Kur-ring-gai electorate)

Kean, M – Liberal (Hornsby electorate)

Lee, G – Liberal (Parramatta electorate)

Lindsay, W – Liberal (East Hills electorate)

Perrottet, D – Liberal (Epping electorate)

Preston, R – Liberal (Hawkesbury electorate)

Petinos, E – Liberal (Miranda electorate)

Roberts, A – Liberal (Lane Cove electorate)

Sidgreaves, P – Liberal (Camden electorate)

Sidoti, J – Liberal (Drummoyne electorate)

Smith, N – Liberal (Wollondilly electorate)

Speakman, M – Liberal (Cronulla electorate)

Stokes, R – Liberal (Pittwater electorate)

Taylor, M – Liberal (Seven Hills electorate)

Tuckerman, W – Liberal (Goulburn electorate)

Upton, G – Liberal (Vaucluse electorate)

Ward, G – Liberal (Kiama electorate)

Williams, L – Liberal (Port Macquarie electorate)

Williams, R– Liberal (Castle Hill electorate)

McGirr, J – Independent (Wagga Wagga electorate)

Butler, R - Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (Barwon electorate)

Dalton, H - Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (Murray electorate)

Donato, P - Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (Orange electorate)

I invite readers to remember these names at the next NSW state election on Saturday, 25 March 2023.

Koala joey riding on its mother's back
IMAGE: Environmental Defender's Office

Wednesday 28 October 2020

$250-million NSW Bushfire Local Economic Recovery (BLER) Fund opened yesterday and bushfire affected North Coast communities have until 11 December 2020 to apply for funding


The $250-million Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund (jointly funded by the federal and state government) which opened for applications yesterday is available to bushfire affected communities in 47 local government areas, including Tweed, Richmond Valley, Ballina, Byron Bay, Kyogle, Lismore and Clarence Valley.

Application deadline in 2pm (AEDT) Friday 11 December 2020. 

Funding is available in the following three categories

Infrastructure projects, such as roads to support increased industrial development. 

Environmental projects, such as regeneration activities. 

Programs including social, business and environmental education initiatives.

The grant funding for individual projects is dependent on the project type. 

• Infrastructure projects must seek a minimum of $400,000 with a maximum available grant of $20 million. 

• Environmental projects including rehabilitation, remediation and resilience improvements must seek a minimum of $200,000 with a maximum available grant of $4 million. 

• Programs, including social, business and environmental education initiatives must seek a minimum of $200,000 with a maximum available grant of $4 million. 

Funding will be prioritised to support applications from areas most impacted by bushfires.

Details can be found at

Those eligible to apply for funding are Councils, Joint Organisations of Councils, Not-for-Profits including business chambers, industry associations and charities, research or academic organisations, Local Aboriginal Councils and State Government corporations.

Labor Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin welcomes the announcement of this new funding. “Every little bit helps and this is more than needed in the lead-up to the Christmas season. Goodness knows we need it – bushfires, drought, more bushfires, floods and COVID-19” Ms Saffin said.

Will this be one of the last attempts available to communities seeking to legally curb rapacious loggers from destroying New South Wales koala habitat?


Clarence Valley Independent, 21 October 2020:

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has commenced five prosecutions in the Land and Environment Court against Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCN) for allegedly breaching licence requirements in 2018.

Allegedly committed by FCN’s contractors, the offences – the felling of trees in exclusion zones and protected areas, some of which are specifically set up to protect koala habitat – took place in Wild Cattle Creek State Forest (west southwest of Glenreagh).

The FCN states in a media release that it had set aside “three times” the required kola habitat “under the rule set” and that the “EPA’s allegations relate to nine trees”, despite “protecting an additional 6,000 trees”.

The prosecutions follow the EPA issuing a stop work order on Saturday July 18, to cease tree harvesting, in compartments 32, 33 and 34 of the forest, where “serious breaches of forestry operations rules” were alleged to have been committed.

The EPA alleges that the current alleged breaches occurred in compartments 539 and 540 of the forest, in breach of Forestry Corporation’s licence.

The EPA’s acting chief executive officer, Jacqueleine Moore, said it was unacceptable to put vulnerable species, such as the koala, in danger by breaking the rules.

We have strict procedures in place to protect wildlife, and if they are disregarded it can put these animals under threat,” Ms Moore said.

The EPA alleges that: Forestry Corporation’s contractors felled trees and operated snig tracks (tracks created by harvesting machinery) within a koala high use area exclusion zone located within Compartment 539 of the forest; and, contractors felled trees in protected rainforest areas and an exclusion zone around warm temperate rainforest.

Offences relating to koala exclusion zones carry a maximum penalty of $440,000 each; the other “three offences carry a maximum penalty of $110,000 each”.

In this instance, after a long investigation process that involved interviews and a consultation process with Forestry Corporation, the EPA has decided that these actions warrant prosecution,” Ms Moore said.

We’re sending a strong message that laws created to protect the environment, and in particular vulnerable species like the koala, must be adhered to.”…..

It should be noted that NSW state forests are exempt from the provisions of State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala HabitatProtection) 2019 (amended 3 September & 16 October 2020), as is private land being commercially logged under a private native forestry plan.

Exemptions go further and it appears all land now listed as "any area of the State" in Part 5A below (apart from certain land in Ballina, Coffs Harbour City, Lismore, Kempsey & Port Stephens local government areas) is no longer covered by the Koala Habitat Protection SEPP under amendments to NSW Land Services Act 2013 being rammed through state parliament by the NSW National Party. 

It seems that this may possibly only leave urban land already covered by a local government registered development control plan and the national park estate with a certain degree of protection


This Part applies to any area of the State, other than the following--

(a) urban areas of the State to which State Environmental Planning Policy (Vegetation in Non-Rural Areas) 2017 applies,

(b) national park estate and other conservation areas, namely--

(i) a wilderness area declared under the Wilderness Act 1987 , or

(ii) land reserved under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 or acquired by the Minister administering that Act under Part 11 of that Act, or

(iii) land dedicated or set apart as a flora reserve under the Forestry Act 2012 (or any Act repealed by that Act), or

(iv) land to which an interim heritage order or listing on the State Heritage Register under the Heritage Act 1977 applies, or

(v) a declared area of outstanding biodiversity value under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 , or

(vi) an area declared to be critical habitat under Division 3 of Part 7A of the Fisheries Management Act 1994 , or

(vii) a declared World Heritage property within the meaning of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 of the Commonwealth, or

(viii) land dedicated or reserved under the Crown Lands Act 1989 for similar public purposes for which land is reserved, declared or listed under the other Acts referred to in this paragraph, or

(ix) land to which an interim protection order under Part 11 (Regulatory compliance mechanisms) of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 applies, or

(x) Lord Howe Island,

(c) State forestry land, namely--

(i) land that is a State forest or timber reserve under the Forestry Act 2012 , or

(ii) land acquired under Division 4 of Part 3 of the Forestry Act 2012 for the purposes of a State forest (not being any such land acquired for the purposes of a timber plantation).

The regulations may amend this section for the purposes of adding or removing areas of the State to which this Part applies (or of revising references to areas of the State). [my yellow highlighting]

Tuesday 27 October 2020

NSW Nationals MP Chris Gulaptis boasts of his betrayal of his electorate

Clarence Valley Independent, 20 October 2020:

Koalas will have more protection but farmers and foresters won’t be saddled with unreasonable red tape following the introduction of a much improved State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) into State Parliament last Thursday (October 15), according to Clarence Nationals MP Chris Gulaptis.

The Local Land Services Amendment Bill 2020” is a vast improvement on what was proposed initially and a win not just for the Nationals, but also for farmers, the timber industry and indeed koalas,” Mr Gulaptis said.

I was prepared to walk away from the Government over the original Liberal Party plan, but this is a terrific compromise secured by the Nationals in NSW Government, in which rural industries are protected but property developers will be banned from disturbing koala habitat.

As I said before, the red tape stops at the farm gate and that is how it should be,” Mr Gulaptis concluded.

This is a précis the final 16 October 2020 version of the amended NSW SEPP, State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection) 2019:

  • Retains its new commencement date of 1 March 2020;
  • Doesn’t apply to - (b) land dedicated under the Forestry Act 2012 as State forest or a flora reserve. An exemption also contained in the previous 3 September 2020 version of this SEPP;

  • Only applies to 83 named local government areas out of a total of 128 local government areas and to - (a) in the koala management area specified in Schedule 1 opposite the local government area, or (b) if more than 1 koala management area is specified, in each of those koala management areas. Clauses also included in the previous version of this SEPP;
  • Only applies to land classified as core koala habitat which is over 1 hectare in size. This applied to land in the previous version of the SEPP as well;
  • Doesn’t apply to any land on which a development application has already been lodged, as was the case under the previous version of this SEPP;
  • Tightens the definition of core koala habitat so that a higher level of proof is required at this clause - (a) an area of land which has been assessed by a suitably qualified and experienced person in accordance with the Guideline as being highly suitable koala habitat and where koalas are recorded as being present at the time of assessment of the land as highly suitable koala habitat;
  • Made more land exempt from its provisions - (c) land on which biodiversity certification has been conferred, and is in force, under Part 8 of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016;
  • Allows larger buildings or buildings on a different part of a post-bushfire residential lot by repealing - (b) the replacement dwelling house is within the existing building footprint;
  • Removes this provision protecting koala habitat identified by a particular form of mapping - (i) is not identified on the Koala Development Application Map.

It should be noted that at no time did the 3 September 2020 version of this SEPP ever apply to agricultural land broadly. The existing rules for routine farming activity and rural land clearing did not change and, if farmers had koala habitat on their land they could still apply and get approval to clear koala habitat under existing land clearing laws.

Provisions in Local Land Services Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2020 have little or nothing to do with protecting koalas or farmers with koalas on their land - despite the Nationals MP for Clarence Chris Gulaptis attempting to marry the Koala Habitation Protection SEPP and this Land Services amendment in the public's mind.

What the Local Land Services Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2020 actually does is remove all local government areas from the protection of State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection) 2019 with the exception of just five local government areas - Ballina, Coffs Harbour City, Kempsey, Lismore and Port Stephens.

The NSW Nationals wanted the bill to go forward using the Koala Habitat Protection SEPP as the excuse masking its real intent - to establish as law those clauses that (i) allow the commercial logging of native trees to continue unimpeded on private land by circumventing a government review of the private forestry system and (ii) to allow future clearing of native timber on farmland without the need for authorisation under other state legislation, including the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 .

On 20 October 2020 the NSW Parliament’s Legislation Review Committee stated in part of the impending legislation of which Gulaptis now so proudly boasts:

The [Land Services] Bill seeks to remove several requirements for land owners to obtain development consent under Parts 4 and 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (the EPA Act). In doing so, the Committee notes that the Bill would remove local councils' ability to assess development applications, engage with relevant neighbour and community stakeholders, and make recommendations regarding the proposed development changes. It may thereby impact on the rights of these stakeholders to participate in such processes and be consulted about issues that may affect them…... [my yellow highlighting]

Chris Gulaptis is boasting of bad law and misrepresenting exactly what is contained in the new legislation to residents and voters in his electorate.

This former surveyor, property developer and mining operations consultant voted for the extinction of a unique species, the Australian Koala, and for virtually unconstrained land clearance which will see many more native species at threat of extinction in New South Wales. 

Monday 26 October 2020

Years of complaints finally sees NSW Parliament pass a law banning sexist and offensive slogans on vehicles

New section in Road Transport Act 2013 No 18

Echo NetDaily, 23 October 2020:

Sexist and offensive slogans on vehicles, such as Wicked Campers, have now been outlawed after the Road Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 was adopted by parliament on October 21. 

Local MP Tamara Smith (Greens) said it was a ‘great win’, with Greens amendments being adopted. 

Within her speech on the bill, she said, ‘People in the Ballina electorate who have advocated on this issue consider it a very positive change in the law. Di Campbell, former president of the Bangalow Country Women’s Association, wrote to me and said, “There is no place for slogans which promote sexism, racism and violence against women. Driving behind them with children must be extremely difficult for parents to explain. Many have slogans which are ever so sexist and thoroughly demeaning to women”. 

‘Paul McCarthy, who campaigned very strongly in Byron Bay, wrote to me and said, “Can you please help a poor old grandfather who is trying to clean up his town of Byron Bay. All he wants to do is to be able to walk down the street with his granddaughters and not read signs using obscenities”. 

In 2014, The Echo reported that a federal Greens motion was unanimously passed in the senate, which followed a hugely successful petition. It was sparked by an 11-year-old girl who objected to the slogan, ‘In every princess, there’s a little slut who wants to try it just once,’ which she noticed painted on the back of a Wicked Camper van.

Quite rightly NSW Government refuses request not to release environmental flow waters into Shannon Creek - Clarence Valley & Coffs Harbour City councils expected to honour their undertakings


Shannon Creek Dam
IMAGE: Clarence Valley Council

The Daily Telegraph, 23 October 2020: 

North Coast local council areas will be forced back onto Level One water restrictions after the State Government refused a request from Clarence Valley and Coffs Harbour councils to keep more than two billion litres of water in the Shannon Creek Dam. 

Clarence Valley Council water cycle manager Greg Mashiah said a one-time exemption to the NSW Government’s license agreement had been requested, however, a verbal response had now been received declining the request. 

“Under our transparent extraction licence we need to release all the water that flows down the Shannon Creek into the dam,” he said. “This mimics the natural flow of the creek – the volume of water flowing into the dam must equal the volume flowing out.” Mr Mashiah said the water that came into the dam from Shannon Creek during the February flood had not yet been released. “We are currently waiting for written advice from the NSW Government with instructions on how they want the release to take place,” he said.

Sunday 25 October 2020

Once again the NSW Premier and her Liberal-Nationals Coalition Government are the subject of corruption allegations


On 3 July 2020 a NSW Legislative Council committeee, the Public Accountability Committee (PAC), began an Inquiry into the Integrity, efficacy and value for money of NSW Government grant programs.

Thus far public hearings have been held on 21 September, 16 October and 23 October 2020 with further hearing dates scheduled for 27 November and 9 December 2020.

Six of the seven local government councils in the NSW Northern Rivers region – Tweed Shire, Richmond Valley, Ballina, Kyogle, Lismore and Clarence Valley - made submissions to the Inquiry outlining both satisfaction and frustration with the current grants system. These submission can be found here.

The Inquiry’s public hearings to date have generated media interest given these followed on the heels of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) Operation Keppel public hearings which revealed the six year intimate relationship between NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Daryl Maquire both when he was a member of her government and after his forced resignation from state parliament in 2018.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 October 2020:

Senior advisers from Gladys Berejiklian's office have been called before a parliamentary inquiry to explain why the NSW Premier handed out $250 million in council grants without any signed paperwork.

The grants scheme is emerging as a major issue for Ms Berejiklian on the back of her appearance before the corruption watchdog, which is investigating her ex-lover Daryl Maguire.

Ms Berejiklian will know the direction of findings from the Independent Commission Against Corruption on December 7, when submissions from counsel assisting are sent to "relevant parties".

In an unusual move, Ms Berejiklian's former chief of staff Sarah Cruickshank and present senior policy officer Sarah Lau will give evidence to the public accountability committee on Friday.

Ms Cruickshank also gave evidence at the ICAC hearing into Mr Maguire, which is investigating whether he used his position as an MP for financial gain, including brokering property deals.

Finance Minister Damien Tudehope has confirmed that no signed approvals exist for 249 grants rubber-stamped between June 27, 2018 and March 1, 2019 from the Stronger Communities Fund, established after council amalgamations.

Ms Lau was the author of emails such as one sent on June 28, 2018 which said: "The Premier has signed off further funding for metro councils. Outlined below is what is been approved."

Ms Berejiklian directly approved more than $100 million in grants, but the only records of her approvals are in the form of emails from advisers.

Staff in Deputy Premier John Barilaro's office also emailed approvals, including one dated August 24, 2018 which said: "The DP has approved funding of $600,000 to Edward River Council."

But Mr Barilaro, who returned from four weeks' mental health leave on Wednesday, distanced himself from the fund, and said "everything was correct" in a similar fund for regional councils.

"The Stronger Communities fund is not a fund that I administer. The Stronger Country Communities fund is something that I administer under my department in regional NSW," Mr Barilaro said.

"There's an allocation made to every single local government area so it's not the beauty contest that we normally get, everybody gets a slice of the fund."…...

The government was dealt a humiliating blow late on Tuesday when its most senior minister of the upper house was suspended from Parliament in a rare move last used more than 20 years ago.

Leader of the government Don Harwin was removed from the chamber by the Usher of the Black Rod over a failure to produce documents showing signed paperwork relating to the grants.

Labor's leader in the upper house Adam Searle told Parliament the government's failure to produce signed approvals could amount to "maladministration, corruption or illegality"…...

The grants, which Labor's MP John Graham told the house were worth "two-and-a-half times the federal sports rorts" scandal, were distributed almost exclusively to councils in Coalition-held seats…...

The head of ICAC Peter Hall QC has said the methods used by the government in its administration of the council grants fund could open the door for corrupt conduct.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 October 2020:

An inquiry wants answers as to whether Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a conflict of interest in her position on a committee that signed off on $30 million for a Wagga Wagga conservatorium following lobbying by former MP Daryl Maguire.

The NSW upper house inquiry into allegations of grant rorting on Friday heard the the Regional Cultural Fund awarded $10 million and $20 million to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music, for the construction of a new recital hall, in 2017 and 2018.

Chris Hanger from the Department of Regional NSW said the latter portion was a pre-byelection commitment from the government following the exit of Wagga MP Mr Maguire, who resigned in disgrace after a corruption inquiry heard he sought commissions from a developer.

After Mr Hanger testified that the funding was signed off by the Expenditure Review Committee, of which Ms Berejiklian is a part, Greens MLC David Shoebridge asked, "are you aware whether or not a conflict of interest was ever placed on the record by the Premier, given she was in a close personal relationship with Mr Maguire?…..

Jonathan Wheaton, executive director of regional programs at the department, told the parliamentary inquiry that, given the ERC was a subcommittee of the cabinet, he was unsure whether that level of information could be shared publicly.

The Sydney Morning Herald has sought comment from the Premier's office about whether or not she was obliged to declare a conflict of interest, and whether or not she had…..

The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 October 2020:

Gladys Berejiklian gave her lover Daryl Maguire's Wagga Wagga electorate six grants totalling $40,000 from her discretionary fund, while an inquiry heard one of her advisers shredded documents showing the Premier's approval of projects under another scheme.

In a parliamentary speech made before resigning from the Liberal Party in disgrace in 2018, Mr Maguire thanked Ms Berejiklian for providing $5134 from the special fund to the Ladysmith Tourist Railway, near the regional city, to cover the cost of replacing railway sleepers stolen by "scoundrels".

"It was a cowardly act to steal the sleepers, but I thank the Premier for helping to replace them," Mr Maguire said in June, also announcing the receipt of $5000 for the erection of a memorial to World War I Victoria Cross recipient Jack Ryan in Tumut. That money had also come from the fund.

Other grants included $10,400 for the Wagga branch of the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia for a firearm cleaning safety enclosure, which Mr Maguire announced to local media in October 2017, and $5000 towards the Talbingo Men's Shed……

ABC News, 23 October 2020:

Documents which Premier Gladys Berejiklian used to approve millions of dollars in grants to local councils were later shredded, a NSW parliamentary inquiry has heard. 

One of the Premier's senior policy advisers, Sarah Lau, told the inquiry she also deleted electronic copies of the notes.....

Nearly all the grants were awarded to local councils in Coalition-held seats.

The inquiry heard that $141.8 million of the grant funding was allocated by the Premier, with $61.3million allocated by the Deputy Premier John Barilaro and $48.9 million by the Minister for Local Government.

In addition to the ICAC and PAC inquiries, the NSW Auditor General has announced an intention to review a selections of grant programs and, the Commonwealth Fraud Prevention Centre has also announced a new project regarding grant programs, highlighting the need to better understand key fraud risks and learn about effective fraud prevention methods particularly given there are elevated integrity risks for government grants in times of crisis or emergency.