The New South Wales Department of Premier and Cabinet attempted to mislead parliament when it tried to prevent a parliamentary committee inquiry from calling a senior policy adviser as a witness, according to Greens MP David Shoebridge.
The inquiry into the $252 million Stronger Communities Fund recently heard that Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s senior policy adviser Sarah Lau had destroyed briefing notes and electronic records on the list of approved projects.
While Berejiklian has denied signing off on the projects, the documents had shown she had played a role in approving the grants, the inquiry heard.
But emails have revealed that, prior to Lau’s October 23 appearance before the inquiry, the Department of Premier and Cabinet told the Public Accountability Committee that Lau would not be able to provide the inquiry with further detail beyond what was already on the record.
An October 16 email from DPC to the committee states that “all records concerning Ms Lau’s role in relation to communicating grant funding decisions to the Office of Local Government appear to have been produced by that agency” and Lau’s appearance was “unlikely to assist the committee’s inquiries further”.
Three days later, another email was sent stating that both Lau and Berejiklian’s former chief of staff, Sarah Cruickshank, had “indicated that they do not consider that attendance in person is likely to assist the committee”.
In light of Lau’s admission that she may have shredded the documents seen by Berejiklian, Shoebridge said the department’s assertion that Lau’s attendance would not assist the inquiry was “plainly false”.
He said the premier, her office and the department must be held to account for attempting to mislead and misdirect the parliament.
“Ms Lau was still employed in the premier’s office at the time this email was sent and even the most basic check would have shown that her evidence was important and that she drafted and then destroyed advices that went to the premier,” he said in a statement.
“Again and again this government has resorted to subterfuge and coverup to obscure the premier’s role in this $252 million scandal. It’s time for the premier to stop hiding behind staff and a wall of bureaucratic protection and front up to the inquiry to explain her role.”
The department has denied it attempted to mislead parliament.
Berejiklian has been accused of pork barrelling after it was revealed 95% of the Stronger Communities Fund grants had been allocated to councils in coalition electorates in the lead up to the 2019 state election.