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ICAC’s chainsaw massacre claims yet more Libs

NSW political reporter Alex Mitchell recalls some of the state’s history of dodgy political donations, as riveting, career-ending testimony continues to spill forth daily from ICAC.

When Barry O’Farrell suddenly resigned as New South Wales premier in April over the Independent Commission Against Corruption revelation that he had received a bottle of Grange from a business lobbyist, his colleagues were stunned: “Resigning over a gift of a bottle of wine? What is Barry thinking? There must be something else to it.”

There was. Unlike his colleagues, O’Farrell knew in advance that worse — much worse — was to come from ICAC’s public hearings.

The latest casualties, Liberal MPs Tim Owen and Andrew Cornwell, have quit Parliament, paving the way for byelections in Newcastle and Charlestown, where the ALP is poised for victory.

The daily testimony from Operation Spicer is riveting stuff: the completely unexpected confessions, angry assertions of innocence, memory lapses, humiliation, shame and occasional bursts of laughter. The press corps is enjoying the spectacle because it is providing front-page copy. But the dozens of lawyers in attendance are not so happy, muttering constantly about “liberties” taken by the counsel assisting, Geoffrey Watson SC. Some talk of referring him to the NSW Bar Council for his “impertinent” treatment of their clients. If Watson knows what the legal eagles at the packed bar table think of him, he doesn’t appear to care. It’s head down and on with the show.

The spotlight is firmly directed on the murky world of Liberal Party election donations, the developers who ignored the law by giving tens of thousands of dollars to Liberal candidates, and the phantom companies used to wash the money. It was part of a master plan in which Liberal Party operatives stole constituencies across the Hunter and Central Coast in the March 2011 election. The operation was financed from a war chest provided by on-the-make developers while party chiefs in Sydney and Canberra washed, dried and folded donations using Liberal fronts they controlled. The cash guaranteed that the party fielded full-time candidates who were paid while they campaigned. Bills for their offices, staff, posters, advertising and mail-outs were all paid for.

The strategy is not new. In May 2005, Professor Maurice Daly delivered a report into Tweed Shire Council after “puppet” councillors were elected with the help of local developers. “Tweed Directions constructed a campaign funded by money primarily sourced from developers intended to secure a pro-development majority,” Daly said in his report tabled in Parliament. “Candidates, selected and supported by Tweed Directions, while presenting themselves as independents, were imposters, being puppets of Tweed Directions. The actions of the candidates and of Tweed Directions corrupted both the democratic process and its transparency, misleading the electorate.”

The Tweed scam resulted in the sacking of the council and the appointment of three commissioners, including former Sydney lord mayor Lucy Turnbull, to take charge. Most of the backers of Tweed Directions were from the National Party. In their defence, they said: “We are only doing what Labor does in Sydney and Wollongong.”

Now we can include Newcastle and the Liberals as well.

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  • 1
    JohnB
    Posted Wednesday, 13 August 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    So the Libs, Labor and Nationals stand accused of buying elections and of using their stooges as fronts for developers.

    At least PUP isn’t controlled by one external source of funding… oh, wait!

  • 2
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 13 August 2014 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    How “fire-walled” is the federal party - Arfur Sinodinos-wise?

  • 3
    Posted Wednesday, 13 August 2014 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    ^^^ klewso, maybe someone should be asking Peta and her hubby about Federal Liberal donations, him being the party’s boss and her pulling the Mad Monk’s strings…
    But if you really want to know who pulls the strings: ALWAYS FOLLOW THE MONEY!

  • 4
    leon knight
    Posted Wednesday, 13 August 2014 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    I am itching to see Loughnane called before the commission - he is heavily complicit in breaking NSW laws, so being Canberra based should be no protection…

  • 5
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Wednesday, 13 August 2014 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    What a laugh …ICAC meant to fix and expose Labor shenanigans has so far netted more Liberals and the end is not in sight. La, la, la! …Liberal Party wise man saying: we dig big hole or others and fall in it ourselves. Hole now not big enough.

  • 6
    CML
    Posted Wednesday, 13 August 2014 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Hopefully we will see the same outcome from the plethora of politically motivated Royal Commissions currently infecting the land!

  • 7
    GF50
    Posted Wednesday, 13 August 2014 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Hope they have something on Hockey and his Sydney Forum, he is a NSW elected federal representative and to say he repaid electoral funds post his election, surely is still a breach of electoral law. All of those investigated by ICAC and have been found corrupt, must face fraud of the people charges and serve a jail term? Not puny fines, considering their personal wealth. Like lawyers perhaps, lack of Fiduciary Duty, false advertising, whatever the hell they can get them on. Think outside the box!
    Public shame has no meaning to any of them, take the publics money back and sling them in a jail at least until they face charges. No bail, as they are all a flight risk, and will try to approach/intimidate witnesses.
    Our PM,s current modus operandi, when to going gets tough the “tough” (jellybacks} get going, overseas to speak to the underbutlers of the world leaders.

  • 8
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 13 August 2014 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Is this the Hercules to flush the bestial ordure from both sides of these Augean Stables that is NSW politics.

  • 9
    Euan J Thomas
    Posted Wednesday, 13 August 2014 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    How much of the “Developers” money leaked or found its way into the Federal Liberal Party Coffers? We need a Federal ICAC to prevent parties from subverting state laws.

  • 10
    CML
    Posted Thursday, 14 August 2014 at 1:43 am | Permalink

    @ GF50 It seems everyone else in the Coalition can pay back their electoral funds, fraudulently acquired, some of which run into thousands of dollars.
    All except Peter Slipper that is, and his $950 taxi rides! What a joke!!

  • 11
    Lord Muck
    Posted Thursday, 14 August 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    A good and timely article, Alex.

    Based on the general lack of integrity shown by many people before the Commission, the “impertinence” extended to them by Geoffrey Watson SC is justly deserved.

    Owen walks into the commission in an open neck shirt and with his Order of Australia on his lapel thinking he would get an easy time of it. Now that is civil impertinence!

  • 12
    MJPC
    Posted Thursday, 14 August 2014 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    All power to Geoffrey Watson and his team: take no prisoners! Also to Kate McClymont who researched it all for Fairfax…a journo with integrity for once.

  • 13
    Edward James
    Posted Thursday, 14 August 2014 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Well as Australia’s number one whinger according to the Telegraph. I’m not surprised that politicians are being exposed as shonks and cheats I have spent years naming names and publishing allegations it’s about bloody time some of them are being exposed. There will be some more casualties on the Central Coast with luck! Edward James from the long paddock Normanton Western Australia

  • 14
    The Pav
    Posted Friday, 15 August 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Right at the start of this Abbott rudely lambasted a female News Ltd reporter who suggested that there was corruption in the NSW Liberals……Be nice if he was asked his opinion now.

    It would seem corruption is endemic in the NSW Liberal Party. An organisation of which the PM & Treasurer are members. Perhaps this accounts for their dishonest conduct thus far

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