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Sensitive shredded grant documents recovered

Sensitive shredded grant documents recovered

Documents the NSW Premier’s office tried to destroy relating to a grants scandal have been forensically recovered and are set to be handed over to a pork-barrelling probe.

The documents, obtained by NCA NewsWire, reveal the Premier’s staff decided which projects will received funding from the Stronger Community Fund grants program, which is a more hands-on level on involvement than Gladys and her team have previously let on.

The documents also expose the sudden decision to make changes to the program’s guidelines so money could be funneled to help settle a legal clash between two councils in a Liberal-held area of Sydney.

There are also references to other ministers and Liberal members getting involved to steer funding to councils in their electorates.

Berejiklian is facing increasing pressure to explain how she headlined the $252 million fund after an opposition analysis discovered 95 per cent of funds went to projects in Coalition-held seats on the eve of the 2019 election.

The three documents were made by the Premier’s senior policy advisor Sarah Lau in 2018, as the government was preparing to allocate money from the program, which was set up the previous year to support merged councils.

Ms Lau was interrogated by the NSW upper house’s inquiry into the fund last month by MPs from the Labor and Greens party, who were hoping to find out how the allocation decisions were made.

The probe heard the Premier had used working advice notes prepared for her to indicate her approval of the funding decisions. But those notes have disappeared, according to Ms Lau, and the only records that still exist are of the Premier’s involvement were email summaries she wrote to Local Government NSW chief Tim Hurst.

“It is likely that they would have been shredded,” Ms Lau said of the notes, adding that electronic copies were also deleted in line with her “normal record management practices”.

Those electronic copies are the ones that have now been recovered from computer system backups after an order by the upper house.

The notes bear the letterhead of the Office of the Premier and have Ms Lau’s name printed in bold up top.

All three documents contain references to Hornsby Shire Council, a local government area in Energy Minister Matt Kean’s electorate that has received a substantial amount of attention as the grants scandal has unfolded because it received a hefty $90 million, more than a third of the total funds.

The Premier’s office’s handling of the working advice notes is also the subject of a probe by the State Archives and Records Authority.

“The complaint raised provides a sufficient basis and meets the threshold … to commence a record-keeping assessment,” the body previously wrote in a statement.