When Labor supporters and developers gave election campaign donations to NSW Planning Minister Frank Sartor, little did they know that some of their money would finish up in the State’s most northerly seat, Tweed, trying to secure the re-election of the sitting MP Neville “Napper” Newell”.

Sartor sent $500 from his fund-raising account to Newell but he needn’t have bothered: Newell was defeated in the March 2007 election by the Nationals’ Geoff Provest.

“Cranky Frankie” wasn’t the only Labor MP who sent money up to the Tweed in the hope of saving Newell’s seat. Transport Minister John Watkins, MP for Ryde, who is always on the prowl for backbench support, despatched $2,000 and so did Noreen Hay, the MP for Wollongong who has just been stood down as parliamentary secretary to Health Minister Reba Meagher.

She will remain suspended pending the outcome of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) inquiry into the riotous s-x and planning rorts on Wollongong City Council.

The anti-corruption hearings have spotlighted a little known fact about Labor politics in NSW: MPs have their own bank accounts for political donations and disbursement of the money is entirely at their own discretion. The practice is banned in the Liberal Party.

Yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph revealed that the biggest fundraisers were Blacktown MP Paul Gibson, the publicans’ friend, who raised $336,355 and Riverstone MP and former Speaker John Aquilina $108,960 while the trio from “The Gong” came in as follows: Tourism Minister Matt Brown $96,289, Noreen Hay $81,254 and Police Minister David Campbell $35,057.

MPs have sole control over these accounts (and the accumulating interest) and, on the surface, it appears to provide a sure-fire way of building a support base in the parliamentary party and creating a factional power base.

So although a business group, publican, registered club, union or individual might donate a sum of money to a particular MP whom they favour, they have no control over where the money ends up.

As in the case of Sartor, Watkins and Hay, their money went on a mission impossible to rescue “Napper” Newell, a left-wing MP who had an earlier undistinguished career in federal parliament as the MP for Richmond from 1990 to 1996.

Premier Morris Iemma has declared he wants the personal fund-raising accounts closed and a new system put in place. He favours centralising the control of donations in the party’s head office in Sussex Street, the cave where the right-wing machine lives.

Today an upper house inquiry into political donations started in Macquarie Street with Christian Democrat leader Fred Nile in the chair. One of its first recommendations should be for all ministers and backbenchers to make a full disclosure of their fund-raising accounts.

The names of the donors could be suppressed to protect their privacy, but the transactions within the accounts should be a matter of public record.

Nile could set an example by making his own declaration of where his far right Christian outfit receives its money. Certainly his full colour newspaper “Family World News” carries a mélange of reactionary articles which are hostile to Moslems and feverishly pro-Israel.

How anxious is Nile, a former Kings Cross taxi driver, to make a clean breast of the way money wings its way to state MPs and their parties? We shall see…..

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey