Notes confirming the NSW premier was "comfortable" with the allocation of $250 million in council grants, now the subject of a parliamentary committee inquiry, were destroyed by a staffer.
With 95 per cent of the Stronger Communities Fund grants going to councils in coalition electorates in the lead up to the 2019 state election, Gladys Berejiklian has been accused of allocating government funding to win votes.
Ms Berejiklian denies directly signing off on the payments, and NSW upper house members have this week sought paperwork to determine who did. The government denies such documents exist.
Ms Berejiklian's senior policy advisor Sarah Lau was on Friday questioned over emails in which she wrote the premier signed off and approved proposed grant allocations.
She told the inquiry her wording was a turn of phrase and the premier did not have the power to approve the grants, the responsibility for which fell to Office of Local Government chief executive Tim Hurst.
"It would have been more accurate to say that she confirmed she was comfortable with the proposed projects, because the truth is she was not approving any payments," Ms Lau told the committee.
Ms Lau said she could not recall exactly how Ms Berejiklian communicated she was comfortable with the allocations, but it had likely been via a working advice note.
No formal brief regarding the program was handed to the premier.
Ms Lau said she recalled drafting two notes with the guidance of the premier's policy director detailing the funding.
Those notes have since been shredded and electronic copies deleted, Ms Lau said.
But she denied their destruction broke rules around keeping state records, insisting emails tendered to the committee are essentially duplicates of the notes provided to the premier.
"Those emails to the office of the local government are a comprehensive electronic record of the premier's confirmation that she was comfortable," she said.
"I then disposed of those working advice notes that I use to prepare that final record - those emails - in line with my normal record-management practices."
Ms Berejiklian's former chief of staff Sarah Cruickshank fronted the inquiry and said she also would have deemed the email sent to Mr Hurst a sufficient record.
"There's a combination of documents that can be regarded as records and you're not required to keep duplicates," she said.
But Greens MLC and inquiry chair David Shoebridge said it was too convenient that documents which could incriminate the premier had been destroyed.
"Did the premier know her staff were routinely destroying these critical state records? Is it still happening?" he asked in a statement on Friday.
"It's time for the premier to come clean about these dodgy grant allocations and stop hiding behind staffers and the destruction of documents."
Ms Cruickshank also told the inquiry that in hindsight she thought it "odd" the office of local government did not return a brief to the premier to accept.
"It's not clear to me that they were required to ... but it might have reassured you (the committee) that there wasn't something going on," she said.
Australian Associated Press