The NSW Opposition says a deal which saw the Government pour millions of dollars of taxpayer money into a wagyu beef company does not pass the pub test.
Earlier this year, the Government’s GO NSW Equity Fund invested $3.3 million dollars in Stone Axe Pastoral on the recommendation of the fund manager — private equity investment firm Roc Partners.
But a budget estimates hearing has revealed 10 months earlier, Roc Partners bought a majority share of the wagyu beef company.
Upper House Labor MP John Graham grilled Deputy Premier John Barilaro about whether he was concerned Roc Partners had made the recommendation in its own interests.
“They [Roc Partners] scoured all of New South Wales, turned up one company which they happened to have the majority shareholding in and they tipped millions of dollars of public funds into that company, is that not a concern?” he asked.
Deputy NSW Premier John Barilaro (second from left) announcing the investment in February, 2018. (Supplied: Stone Axe Pastoral)
Mr Barilaro said the decision was above board.
“These decisions are made at arm’s length from the Government by experts, which is the right thing to do, and it goes through a number of processes,” he said.
Mr Graham then asked: “Can you guarantee they haven’t financially benefited from it? They have, haven’t they?”
Mr Barilaro later told the hearing Roc Partners had disclosed its interest in Stone Axe Pastoral to the Jobs for NSW Board when the investment proposal was being considered.
But Mr Graham suggested the process was not at all transparent.
“Why did the public not know, why was this all done in secret?” he asked.
The $150 million GO NSW Equity Fund was set up by Jobs NSW in partnership with Roc Partners and First State Super to invest money into regional businesses with the potential to rapidly expand and provide jobs.
Stone Axe Pastoral was the first company it chose to invest in.
Wagyu beef company Stone Axe Pastoral received a $3.3 million investment from a NSW Government fund. (Supplied: Stone Axe Pastoral)
Its second investment was a $3.3 million stake in loss-making company Australian Oyster Coast, which has infuriated rival oyster farmers who claim it puts them at an unfair disadvantage.
The chairman of Australian Oyster Coast, David Trebeck, has close ties to the Liberal Party.
Labor used the budget estimates hearing to urge Mr Barilaro to refer both deals to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal so the oyster and beef sectors could be assured there had been no breach of the government’s competitive neutrality rules.
But Mr Barilaro remained unconvinced.
“What I will do is take on board your comments today … and Government will make a decision as to what the future looks like,” he said.