Chris Hartcher leaves an ICAC hearing in 2014
Former NSW cabinet minister Chris Hartcher is the biggest “scalp” from today’s release of the sensational anti-corruption report into illegal Liberal Party funding activities.
Hartcher, once considered a contender for the premiership, is a prominent leader of the right-wing faction.
The Operation Spicer report recommends that the DPP consider charges against Hartcher for larceny and also singles out former Labor MP Joe Tripodi for alleged corrupt conduct in office.
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Other Liberal MPs are perhaps deemed to have suffered enough and will not be pursued because their political careers have ended.
Perhaps it was felt that after the watchdog’s “naming and shaming”, it was time to draw a line in the sand.
For some opponents of ICAC, the “damp squib” findings by Operation Spicer will be used to bolster the campaign to end public hearings and scale back investigations unless they are vetted in advance.
This is the right-wing Liberal brigade led by broadcaster Alan Jones, the mining and developer industries and The Australian.
On the other hand, Operation Spicer and its related inquiries (still to be published) seemed to prove the efficacy of the agency’s role as a corruption-buster as well as its investigative procedures.
In a brief few weeks of 2014, the watchdog’s public hearings laid bare an extraordinary web of deliberate deceit to frustrate laws forbidding election donations from developers. Money was collected surreptitiously in NSW, funnelled to the Free Enterprise Foundation in Canberra and then found its way back to key Liberal campaigners in NSW.
It was money-washing to avoid detection. Others have called it money-laundering. Whatever, Operation Spicer exposed it to the general public for the first time.
The findings could not have come at a worse time for Premier Mike Baird. With his popularity plummeting, Baird is attempting — so far unsuccessfully — to rebrand his government and rebuild his all-smiling image.
Not even a cabinet reshuffle can overcome this election donation scandal. Labor was crucified in 2011 for scandals such as this, and now the Liberals have been caught with their hands in the same jam jars.
ICAC has enjoyed many spectacular moments in its 27-year history but none will surpass its corruption-busting achievements with Operation Spicer.
In the first few months of 2014, a total of 11 Liberal MPs, including the premier, Barry O’Farrell, two cabinet ministers, Chris Hartcher (energy resources) and Mike Gallacher (police) and a raft of new backbenchers either resigned from Parliament or the Liberal Party or moved to the crossbenches.
Heavyweights from the state and federal parties, including former NSW honorary finance director [now senator] Arthur Sinodinos, were also drawn into the media spotlight
As the member for Gosford on the NSW Central Coast, Hartcher built a formidable group of supporters in previously Labor-held territory.
But as the Central Coast and Newcastle became “dormitories” for professional workers from Sydney, the demographic changed and the region became a hunting ground for Hartcher’s faction.
Today’s publication of the Operation Spicer report finishes the political life of the once-powerful Hartcher faction.
Predictably, today’s release of the corruption watchdog’s report into illegal Liberal Party donation-gathering before the 2011 state election, was a stuff-up.
Delivered to Parliament House at 10am, the report was due to hit the Parliament House website minutes later.
Instead, visitors to the site received an electronic message saying:
“Server error. There is a problem with the resource you are looking for and it can’t be displayed.”