NSW public servant notes concerns about money that flowed to Monaro Farming Systems

By Melissa Coade

Monday June 14, 2021

The corruption probe is examining whether Alexandre Dubois and Craig Steyn dishonestly exercised their official functions over a 10-year period. (Image: Adobe/Adwo)

Papers presented to the NSW upper house have revealed that a senior bureaucrat took issue with state government funding totalling $50,000 to be provided to an agricultural group linked to the family of federal energy and emissions minister Angus Taylor.

According to reports by The Guardian, a $50,00 NSW government payment to Monaro Farming Systems (MFS) — a farming research cooperative established by Angus Taylor’s brother Richard Taylor in 2007 — makes a total of $800,000 in grant money to flow to the organisation from state and federal governments since 2015.

Documents produced to the state upper house now disclose that a senior public servant (whose name was redacted) was charged with delivering the latest $50,000 to MFS and raised their concerns about the nature of the agreement.

The Guardian reports that a file note dated 28 January, written by the senior public servant after he had a 10-minute phone call about the MFS payment, was included among other papers called for by the Upper House. 

“I am concerned about the nature of this agreement,” the public servant’s note read.

“I am concerned about the ethics of this. Is it favouritism? Is it bribery? This does not sit well with me. Would I be complicit? I need to discuss.”

Allegedly the Department of Primary Industries bureaucrat was told in the call to make the $50,000 payment look like a contractual payment for services to MFS, rather than a grant.

“[Person A] told me information that was not included in the documents, which was as follows,” the concerned bureaucrat wrote.

“John Barilaro – visited Monaro Systems and promised money for extension services with their members. [The deputy director general] has to provide $50k. Monaro will provide an invoice for the $50K. Putting a contract in place gives the invoice legitimacy. DPI [Department of Primary Industries] have no control over what activity Monaro will do with the money.

“I said: ‘this seems more like a grant, but you are trying to avoid it being a grant??’ [Person A] said: ‘it was preferential that it was a contractual arrangement not grant because if it came out, every grower group would want a grant,’” he wrote.

“Monaro is in John’s electorate. Very circumspect as to what the agreement is about,” he added.

Barilaro is the local MP for Monaro, where MFS is based. In addition to his connection to federal LNP colleague Angus Taylor, NSW Nationals MP and Barilaro’ former parliamentary secretary Bronwyn Taylor is the sister-in-law of Richard Taylor.

The Guardian notes that while the Taylor family are major landowners in Monaro and stand to benefit from MFS research findings on how to improve farming practices in the region, there is no suggestion that the Taylor family were involved in lobbying for the grant money or even aware of it. 

The paper also stated that despite the concerns raised in the public servant’s file note, no suggestion of any actual wrongdoing by the deputy premier Barilaro or any other bureaucracy was being made. 

During question time on Thursday, Barilaro was asked by Labor MP Yasmin Catley whether the $50,000 MFS payment was ‘a grant or a bribe’.

In response, Barilaro said he would continue fighting for his electorate but ‘unfortunately’ he was not able to direct spending in the Department of Primary Industries. The deputy premier then said relevant questions about the grant should be made to NSW agriculture minister Adam Marshall.

“A file note written by an unidentified bureaucrat does not reflect government processes,” Barilaro said.


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