Destroyed NSW grant documents recovered

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian's adviser Sarah Lau shredded records on council grants.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian's adviser Sarah Lau shredded records on council grants.

Gladys Berejiklian's office has recovered destroyed documents at the centre of a pork-barrelling scandal, confirming the NSW premier's staff determined which projects would receive funds from a controversial council grants program.

The documents, obtained by AAP, include briefing notes provided to the premier outlining why certain projects should be supported by the Stronger Communities Fund.

The grants have been causing trouble for the premier for months, after it emerged more than 95 per cent of the $252 million handed out to NSW councils in the lead-up to the 2019 state election went to projects in coalition-held seats.

The scrutiny over the alleged pork barrelling intensified after a senior government aide admitted in a parliamentary inquiry last month to shredding documents relating to their approval.

Sarah Lau, an adviser to the premier, told a NSW parliamentary committee she had shredded records showing Ms Berejiklian had "signed off" on $141.8 million of the council grants.

Ms Lau also deleted electronic copies, saying it was "normal record management practice".

But the NSW Parliament's Upper House earlier this month voted to force the premier's office to undertake a forensic document recovery to find the briefing notes.

The notes cast light on the decisions behind the allocation of funding, and why the fund's guidelines were changed to make all councils that were subject to merger proposals eligible, not just those where the merger was successful.

The change was made to make way for the allocation of $90 million - over a third of the total funding - to go to the Hornsby Council.

"The premier has been ducking and weaving all year, trying to avoid responsibility for her role in this grants scandal," Greens MP David Shoebridge, who is also the chair of a parliamentary inquiry into the funds, told reporters on Thursday.

"Now we see in black and white that she was at the very centre of it and approved over $140 million of these grants."

One note reveals the Hornsby Shire Council met with Ms Lau, local state member and minister Matt Kean and the premier's then-policy director Matthew Crocker to request funding up to $295 million.

"In terms of funding - there is no obvious other source of funding for these projects other than the $160m we had set aside from the merger funds," Mr Crocker wrote on the briefing note.

"Otherwise, this will be a discussion with Dom (Treasurer Dominic Perrottet) on Budget funding."

The Hornsby Council's request prompted the guidelines to be altered, which Mr Shoebridge says amounts to corrupt conduct.

"The government identified hundreds of millions of dollar's worth of projects they wanted to fund, and then work backwards to bodgied up the guidelines in order to have them approved," he said.

"What we see (is) over $250 million of public money being handed out like it's the premier's own."

Labor MP John Graham, also a member of the public accountability committee probing the grants, said the release of the documents still didn't reveal who thought up the scheme, but made clear the reason the briefing notes were destroyed.

"We don't know what the premier wrote, because those documents have been shredded... I think it is clear why," he told reporters.

The documents also allude to the intervention of other ministers and Liberal members to steer funding towards councils in their electorates.

The premier has denied she approved the grants and says she had no role in the destruction of the documents.

Australian Associated Press