A Parliamentary Inquiry has heard the Premier approved a $90 million taxpayer-funded grant for a Liberal electorate in Sydney’s north. The grant for Hornsby Shire Council was finalised within 24 hours of the Council being notified it was eligible.
The Office of Local Government chief executive Tim Hurst said his agency held no record of a written, signed approval for the project from the Premier. The Stronger Communities Fund payment for Hornsby Shire Council was approved via an email from Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s office.
Two other eligible applicants were not aware the fund existed.
NSW Labor has slammed the Government’s handling of the $250 million Fund which was supposed to support forcibly-amalgamated councils.
The Inquiry heard 95% of the money went to Councils in or near seats held by Liberal or Nationals MPs, and that the decisions were approved by either the Premier, Deputy Premier or the Local Government Minister.
NSW Labor Leader Jodi McKay said: “This Stronger Communities Fund was a quarter of a billion dollars. 95% of that went to Liberal and National seats. How is that appropriate?”
Canterbury-Bankstown Mayor Khal Asfour told the Inquiry he contacted former Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton in July 2018 about potential funds for merged Councils. He was informed there were no State Government funds available.
In contrast, Hornsby Shire Council General Manager Steven Head said was notified by the Office of Local Government chief executive, Tim Hurst, around 5pm on 27 June 2018, informing him funds under the Stronger Communities Fund - Tied Grants were available. Their grant was finalised the following day.
Ms McKay said: “This Inquiry is incredibly important to get to the bottom of what’s been happening with grant distribution across NSW. These programs should be fair and based on merit.”
“We support grant programs to help communities across a range of portfolios but we know some are being mismanaged.
“Tax payers should have confidence that decisions are fair and transparent, not politically driven.”
Shadow Minister for Local Government, Greg Warren, said the Stronger Communities Fund - Tied Grants program was a farce.
“This was a taxpayer-funded Government slush fund,” Mr Warren said.
“Not only were councils like Canterbury-Bankstown and Inner West denied access to the program, they were actually told there was no State Government funding available when clearly there was.
“Make no mistake, this fund was a rort.”
The Inquiry into Integrity, Efficacy and Value for Money of NSW Government Grant Programs will continue on Friday, October 16.