After six days of evidence about Ian Macdonald’s infamous night at room 1119 in the Four Seasons Hotel with Tiffanie, it was a huge relief to finally hear it from the horse’s mouth.
In his evidence to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, the former minister for energy was also able to give valuable insights into how he ran his department, saying that he often set up meetings with senior bureaucrats for people who asked him for access. And although he ate almost weekly at the Tuscany Restaurant in Leichhardt, he has been unable to produce any receipts to show that he ever paid a bill.
The long-time Labor minister made his appearance just before lunch yesterday, and was asked about the night of July 15, 2009. Although it may look odd that he had met an Asian s-x worker called Tiffanie at the hotel at 11pm, he said, in fact he had gone there for a remedial massage on his stiff neck.
When he entered the hotel room, he removed his coat and lay down on the bed, he said. However, due to the late hour and the lavish $850 dinner at Tuscany he had been part of that evening, Morpheus’s arms had been more inviting than Tiffanie’s.
“As soon as my head hit the pillow I fell asleep,” he said.
Macdonald’s evidence was that he woke up several hours later and went home, but he was unable to explain why phone records showed that he had accessed the internet on his iPhone at 11.18pm and again at 1am. Tiffanie remained in the room while he slept.
Tiffanie has given a slightly difference version of the night, saying that she had stripped down to her underwear and lain down on the bed with the minister. After a bit of chit-chat he had kissed her “roughly” and then fallen asleep, she said.
Counsel assisting, Geoffrey Watson SC, asked Macdonald: “Well, you end up in the room with Tiffanie for some hours. How do you explain that?”
“I was drunk, I was sore and I was distressed,” he said.
“Mr Macdonald, could you see how somebody from the outside might view it a little differently?”
“I don’t concede that,” he said.
Macdonald is the last witness in an inquiry into allegations that Sydney businessman Ron Medich and an associate, former boxer Lucky Gattellari, organised a s-x worker for the minister a reward for arranging two dinners between Medich and state energy executives at the Tuscany restaurant in July 2009. These meetings was intended to advance the business interests of Medich’s Rivercorp group of companies, it has been alleged.
The inquiry has heard that the part-owner of Tuscany, Frank Moio, usually waived the bill when Labor Party officials ate there. There has also been evidence that Moio was on a $3000-a-week retainer from Medich and Gatellari to advance their business interests by introducing them to businesspeople and politicians.
Gatellari has pleaded guilty to the murder of Sydney businessman Michael McGurk and is in custody awaiting sentencing. Medich and three other men have also been charged in relation to the murder.
Macdonald was also extensively questioned about why, on two occasions, he had allowed Medich and an associate, Kim Shipley, to approach his table at Tuscany and, in effect, give a business presentation to the heads of two state-owned energy companies.
“Medich had been able to achieve something that he couldn’t have achieved directly. Isn’t that right?” he was asked by Watson. At this, Macdonald became defensive.
“But that’s what ministers do every day of the week. People ring me with a problem and a proposal and you take that proposal to the department or to the bureaucracy in one shape or form and then you facilitate meetings for them,” he said.
“They get in essence, as soon as a minister enters into that facilitation process, they get preferential treatment, so it occurred on a daily basis every day I reckon with most ministries, including ministries who are concerned with economic development and deal with business in particular on a regular basis.”
Watson summed up the situation: “There’s a person with whom you, the minister, is both friendly and familiar, that’s Medich. You know that Medich dines often at the Tuscany. You initiate an appointment with (energy executive) Maltabarow, one which he regarded as unique. There was no apparent purpose to the meeting and the two of you sat at a table, Medich came across, he took the advantage of that to make a business presentation in circumstances where he was able to get a preference or advantage, one which he could never have secured had he contacted Maltabarow directly.”
“Do you see anything wrong with that?”
Macdonald replied: “Only in some emphasis I think you’re wrong, but no, I don’t. And I think that I was performing my duties as a minister.”
Watson continued: “Do you meet regularly with, not just businesspeople but other political-style people in restaurants?”
“Yes,” Macdonald replied, “It’s a Labor Party tradition.”
Later on in the day I went as a guest of entertainment group Showbiz to a stunning production of Richard III at The Lyric Theatre. Kevin Spacey turned in a seminal performance in the title role; plotting, scheming and murdering his way to the top before eventually being toppled on the battlefield.
“That,” I said to my companion, “was just like ALP national conference.”