The Stronger Communities Fund, established after council mergers in 2016, has emerged as a major headache for the government following revelations the vast majority of the tied-grants round went to councils in Coalition-held seats.
The NSW government has repeatedly maintained all guidelines were followed and the funding delivered significant benefits for communities across the state.
A spokesman for the premier said the State Records Act provides for a number of ways to “lawfully dispose of State records”.
“The State Archives and Records Authority is currently undertaking a record-keeping review specific to the Stronger Communities Fund and if the authority recommends changes in document management practices, the NSW government is always happy to consider changes designed to improve transparency,” the spokesman said.
Senior policy adviser Sarah Lau told the inquiry last month that she provided briefing notes to the Premier with a list of projects – one of them involving $90 million for Hornsby Shire Council – and then shredded the documents and deleted their electronic records.
Mr Lindsey clarified in his letter that his office was currently undertaking its own assessment of the destruction of the working advice notes following a request from Labor’s local government spokesman Greg Warren.
A spokesman for the Premier previously said the office was “providing all assistance required by the authority to help with its record-keeping assessment.”
But Mr Shoebridge said there was now no “serious doubt” the shredded and deleted documents were state records that needed to be protected.
“This is the clearest advice possible from State Records that what was going on in the Premier’s office was beyond the law,” Mr Shoebridge said.
The state’s Information Commissioner has also launched a probe, while Labor has referred Ms Berejiklian’s office to several agencies, including NSW Police, which ruled out an investigation.
Mr Lindsey also wrote that the State Records Act permitted certain types of duplicate records to be disposed of.
Ms Lau told the inquiry that emails produced to the upper house detailing the list of projects approved by the Premier acted as a record for the Premier’s assent.
According to an analysis by the opposition, 95 per cent of the Stronger Communities fund went to councils in Coalition seats in the lead up to the 2019 state election.
Angus Thompson is an Urban Affairs reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.