Poll Bludger: NSW Libs can’t stop the rot as ICAC claims another soul
The New South Wales Liberal Party’s unfolding crisis shows no sign of abating, with the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s inquiry into property developer donations yesterday claiming its tenth victim. Bart Bassett joins an ever-lengthening list of state MPs who have either stood aside from the party or resigned from parliament altogether, along with federal ministerial casualty Arthur Sinodinos.
The allegations facing Bassett should sound familiar enough by now, involving as they do attempts to circumvent the ban on donations from property developers brought in by the Labor government in 2009. Once (and future?) coal mining magnate Nathan Tinkler is again at the centre of proceedings, as is the role of a Liberal Party associated entity, the Free Enterprise Foundation, in facilitating the flow of property developer money to election candidates.
There is, however, one important distinction in Bassett’s case. The previous ICAC casualties from lower house seats all hailed from the Central Coast and Hunter region, a fact potently illustrated by a graphic doing the rounds on social media a few weeks ago.
Bassett, on the other hand, represents the electorate of Londonderry, located in the fabled electoral crucible of western Sydney. His involvement complicates Liberal efforts to establish containment lines around the issue, most notably its act of penance in forfeiting the pending by-elections to replace its disgraced members for Newcastle and Charlestown.
If the experience of the O’Farrell-Baird government has taught us nothing else, it’s that the diseases that infect the New South Wales body politic are not so easily quarantined.
It has certainly been demonstrated that corruption scandals are by no means confined to one side of politics, as Tony Abbott’s social media unit smugly imagined when they fired off a tweet last year that has since come back to haunt them. Nor are factionalism and branch-stacking any less central to the Liberal Party’s inner workings, as a closer look at Bart Bassett’s recent history makes clear.
Bassett is a factional moderate and an ally of Michael Photios, whose work as a lobbyist for Nick Di Girolamo’s Australian Water Holdings engaged ICAC’s interest in April. Like a number of other state Liberal MPs, Bassett found his way into parliament at the 2011 election by securing a seat the party had never won before — and which, he no doubt feared, it might never win again.
The activities of the Diaz camp … have rated high among the inspirations behind a reform push in the New South Wales Liberal Party.
Starting from this already unpromising base for a long-term career in politics, Bassett’s position was further weakened by new electoral boundaries, in which Londonderry traded Richmond and its semi-rural surrounds for a chunk of deep red territory in outer suburban St Marys. Bassett then entered a game of musical chairs with the members for two nearby safe Liberal seats, Ray Williams in Hawkesbury and Dominic Perrottet in Castle Hill, which ended with Williams and Perrottet swapping seats and Bassett left empty-handed.
At this point it might have been thought that Bassett would choose, however reluctantly, to dig and defend the turf he has spent over three years working as local member. However, it appeared that a new opportunity knocked to the east of Londonderry in the seat of Riverstone, held by another first-termer in Kevin Conolly — not quite as attractive a prospect for a Liberal as blue-ribbon Hawkesbury, but with a post-redistribution margin of 20%, surely good for at least another few terms.
The principal actor in this chapter of the drama was local party potentate Jess Diaz, best known to the nation at large as the underwriter of two disastrous bids for the federal seat of Greenway by his son Jaymes. Both father and son had reportedly turned their activities as migration agents to their advantage in building networks of support within the local party — a less charitable interpretation of which would involve terms commonly associated with the ALP, such as “ethnic branch-stacking”.
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