NSW Liberal leader Barry O'Farrell has stuck his neck out on political donations reform, lobbyist activities and election expenditure in an attempt to get ahead of Premier Rees in the eyes of the electorate.
It's a courageous move, as Sir Humphrey Appleby
would say, given the growing disquiet about over development in Mr O'Farrell's own electorate of Ku-ring-gai and his personal record on accepting donations from developers and lobbyists.
The Greens' Democracy4sale.org project has uncovered numerous examples of corporate fundraising by Mr O'Farrell in his electorate that he has not disclosed to the Election Funding Authority. It is not possible to produce exact figures on Mr O'Farrell's fundraising success, as he has adopted the Liberal Party's reporting system of funnelling all donations through the party head office. Donations can only be sourced back to the Liberal leader when they appear on a donor company's disclosure form.
Take for example the developer Leighton Holdings, who disclosed precise records of its largesse to the major parties in the lead up to the last election. Leighton Holdings has numerous large development projects in NSW, including the Royal North Shore Hospital re-development.
On 3 March 2006 Leighton Holdings paid $1500 for a table of 10 people at the Ku-ring-gai Business Breakfast with Barry O'Farrell. They donated $595 to the NSW Liberals again on 11 July and 2 November 2006 via a Gordon post office box. Then on 19 January 2007 they donated a further $1500 to the NSW Liberals via a Turramurra post office box. This is just one developer we know of who attended one of Barry O'Farrell's electorate fundraisers.
Other donations disclosed directly to Barry O'Farrell's electorate campaign fundraisers include donations from Insurance Australia Group ($120), the Commonwealth Bank ($250) and Laundy Trading Pty Ltd, a large hotelier ($1490).
We know that other property developers with big projects in Ku-ring-gai also give generously to the NSW Liberal party, possibly at Mr O'Farrell's own fundraisers.
Johnson's Property Group, which is re-developing the controversial SAN Hospital site in Wahroonga, has donated $150,200 to the NSW Coalition in the past few years.
Rosecorp, which built a massive retirement village in an inappropriate fire-prone location adjacent to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, has donated $32,000 to the NSW Liberals.
Mirvac, which has built high-rise apartments on the Pacific Highway, have given the NSW Liberals $163,200.
Stockland, which recently purchased land in Gordon for $24 million to build 140 apartments, has donated $200,000 to the NSW Liberal party.
Local developer EK Nominees, who are massively expanding the St Ives Shopping Centre, has donated $30,000 to the NSW Liberals.
Mr O'Farrell's rhetoric on lobbyists also rings hollow. Since 1999 the NSW Liberals have accepted well over $3 million in donations from members of the powerful property developer lobby group, the NSW Urban Taskforce.
Donor's disclosure forms submitted to the NSW Election Funding Authority (NSWEFA) after the 2007 election revealed that the lobbyist deals between Mr O'Farrell and his party colleagues extended beyond the property development industry.
The NSWEFA election donor disclosure dated 12 February 2008, lists Barry O'Farrell amongst nine key Coalition MPs who accepted 24 donations directly from the lobbyist group Clubs NSW, presumably for fundraisers in their electorates. Clubs NSW declared donating $5000 directly for Mr O'Farrell's campaign. They gave a total of $280,409 to the NSW Coalition party head offices and nine MPs during the 2007 election campaign.
For years the NSW Liberals have funnelled donations to the campaigns of individual MPs and local government councillors through head office so their major donors are hidden from public scrutiny.
Under Barry O'Farrell's leadership the Coalition has always voted with Labor to block the Greens' attempts to increase transparency of political donations disclosure.
The big question now is will O'Farrell be able to break with his party's donations culture and take the critical step of banning all donations to the NSW Liberals from corporations and special interest groups?
Lee Rhiannon is the Greens' donations spokesperson