A senior NSW official told Icac he believed he was asked to redo the business case for a multi-million dollar gun club in Wagga Wagga – after he was initially deemed deficient – because Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian was “particularly interested” in the project.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (Icac) on Thursday heard testimony from Chris Hangar, former director of finance and infrastructure at the New South Wales Department of Industry, that in early 2017 he was in charge of ” Organize a business case for the $ 5.5 million gun club and conference center. .
The grant is one of two at the center of Icac’s investigation into whether Berejiklian violated public trust over his secret relationship with former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire. She denies any wrongdoing and said history would show that she acted in the best interests of the people of NSW.
Hangar told Icac that from the moment he came across the proposal, he understood it had a high level of political support due to its referral by the powerful government spending review committee. chaired by the treasurer of the Berejiklian era in 2016.
The Icac has previously heard that the project received conditional approval from the ERC at the end of 2016 after years of lobbying by Maguire and despite many bureaucrats and policy advisers raising significant concerns about the value and importance of the project.
After its approval by the ERC, the project was sent back to the Hangar Department, then headed by Deputy Prime Minister John Barilaro, to compile what he described as a “satisfactory” business case to support the project.
Hangar told Icac that one of Barilaro’s staff, Peter Minucos, has a keen interest in the project, even going so far as to speak directly with the company hired to carry out the business case.
Minucos has become “heavily involved” in the development of the project, Hangar told Icac on Thursday, something he admitted to be “inappropriate” at the request of commission attorney Scott Robertson.
“It is special for them to be involved in counseling on this as Mr. Minucos has done,” Hangar said.
Hangar told the inquest that he got the impression, based on conversations with Minucos and other senior officials in his department, that there was interest in the “Prime Minister’s” plan. even “who at that time was Berejiklian.
“A series of conversations at the time indicated that the Prime Minister and his office were particularly interested in this particular project,” he told the commission.
“The way he presented himself and how quickly we needed to get the business case for this ERC decision all indicated to us a strong interest from this office in the project.”
Minucos is not the subject of an investigation as part of the Icac investigation.
Hangar told the investigation that the initial business case for the project had a benefit-cost ratio of 0.88, which was insufficient to gain approval from Infrastructure NSW, the body responsible for signing the project.
That wasn’t the end of the grant, however. Hangar told Icac he was asked to “review” the business case by staff at Barilaro’s office, although he understood it was from Berejiklian’s office.
Robertson featured an email from Hangar from May 2017 in which he said Barilaro’s office directly asked the company that wrote the business case to “review and update the filming plan for Wagga Wagga clay to include more expected benefits ”.
“I understood at the time that the interest was coming from the Prime Minister’s Office,” Hangar said. “But it was clear to us that we had to reconsider this business case and that is ultimately what happened.”
The project subsequently received a benefit-cost ratio of 1.1 upon review of the business case, sufficient to gain approval from Infrastructure NSW.
Icac is conducting two weeks of hearings to determine whether Berejiklian abused public trust by “performing public office” in circumstances where she had a conflict of interest due to her relationship with Maguire.
At the heart of the investigation are two grants: the $ 5.5 million granted to the clay target association and the $ 30 million for the Riverina music conservatory, both in the electorate of Maguire, in 2017 and 2018.
Hangar also testified on the second grant on Thursday – the first time it has yet been raised in the investigation.