Probe into shredded notes finds Berejiklian’s office breached record-keeping law

By Shannon Jenkins

January 22, 2021

Gladys Berejiklian (Damian Shaw/AAP)

The Office of the New South Wales Premier breached the State Records Act when a staffer destroyed notes related to the $252 million Stronger Communities Fund, the State Archives and Records Authority has found.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian was accused of pork barrelling last year when it was revealed that 95% of the stronger communities grants had been allocated to councils in coalition electorates ahead of the 2019 state election.

In October, the parliamentary inquiry into the scheme heard that Berejiklian’s senior policy adviser, Sarah Lau, had shredded briefing notes and deleted electronic records on the list of approved projects.

The inquiry heard that the documents had shown the premier had played a role in approving the grants, despite having repeatedly denied signing off on the projects. NSW Labor referred the incident to the NSW Information Commissioner, while Labor MP Greg Warren made a complaint to the State Archives and Records Authority.

In a report released on Friday, the State Archives and Records Authority concluded that while the “unauthorised disposal” of the notes was in breach of the State Records Act, the authority “did not establish that disposal actions taken in regard to working advice notes were the result of explicit instruction by any staff member” within Berejiklian’s office.

The authority also found that the records management information in the Ministers’ Office Handbook had failed to support ministerial staff “in their creation, capture, management and disposal of state records”. Meanwhile, the monitoring of records management in the premier’s office was “insufficient” and didn’t provide management assurance of compliance with records management obligations.

The authority has recommended that Berejiklian’s office create a records management program that includes a range of policies, advice and “training opportunities” for staff to improve compliance with record-keeping laws.

It also recommended that guidelines such as the Ministers’ Office Handbook be updated to provide more detailed information to ministerial staff on their record-keeping responsibilities and practices.

Read more: NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet accused of misleading parliament over emails to inquiry

The authority’s report was released a day after the state Information Commissioner concluded that the premier’s office did not breach the Government Information (Public Access) Act when the documents were shredded and deleted.

Commissioner Elizabeth Tydd on Thursday confirmed that Labor’s complaint about the incident had been assessed and finalised, with a report handed over to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption and the State Archives and Records Authority.

According to AAP, Tydd found that while the conduct of the premier’s office did not amount to a serious or systemic breach of the GIPA Act, there was potential to extend the act to make “the reckless destruction of government information” an offence.

Tydd noted that while record-keeping guidance issued to the premier’s staffers did not sufficiently cover compliance, the GIPA Act “makes express reference to the public interest in the disclosure of information which could reasonably be expected to ensure effective oversight of the expenditure of public funds”.

“The magnitude of the funds allocated through this program are significant and improving the integrity of government grants schemes has been the subject of communication from ICAC,” she said.

Read more: NSW council grant scheme ‘worked in reverse order’, inquiry hears


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