ICAC UPDATE: Liberals' Simon McInnes tells Operation Spicer he 'expressed discomfort' over funneling money 'solicited by someone in Chris Hartcher's office'

Chris Hartcher leaves ICAC on Tuesday. Pic: Daniel Munoz, Fairfax Media via Getty
Chris Hartcher leaves ICAC on Tuesday. Pic: Daniel Munoz, Fairfax Media via Getty

THE NSW Liberal Party's finance director says he expressed "discomfort" to two senior party officials about the extensive use of the Free Enterprise Foundation to funnel money from illegal and other donors into party coffers ahead of the 2011 state election, an inquiry has heard.

"I don't believe it was in the spirit of the law," Simon McInnes told the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Friday.

He said he queried the large volume of donations passing through the foundation in 2010 including $180,000 in cheques "solicited by someone in Chris Hartcher's office" at a meeting with chief fundraiser Paul Nicolaou and at another with both Mr Nicolaou and state director Mark Neeham.

But he was told during one of the discussions: "what Hartcher wants, Hartcher gets".

Mr McInnes said he knew some of the companies giving money through the foundation at that time were banned under state electoral funding laws but he believed it was "completely legal" for the Liberal Party to accept the money from the foundation.

The foundation, a discretionary trust, had been used for several years to facilitate donations for federal use from donors who did not want to be publicly disclosed as supporters.

However, he could not understand the rationale for so many donations going through the foundation, including small amounts of $500, in the lead up to the state election.

Mr McInnes also told the inquiry how the money solicited by Mr Hartcher's office had been passed on to Mr Nicolaou.

Mr Nicolaou would refer the cheques to the Free Enterprise Foundation with advice the donor wanted the money to go to the party.

He said he remained discomforted about the arrangement and that it was not in the spirit of the law, which banned property developers and their associates from supporting campaigns.

The inquiry has heard Nathan Tinkler company Boardwalk Resources was among those to give to the Free Enterprise Foundation, as part of the alleged "washing" of illegal donations.

Of the $53,000 it donate, $35,000 ended up in Tim Owen's Newcastle campaign funds and $18,000 went into the Londonderry campaign of MP Bart Bassett, who is suspended frothe Liberal Party.

Documents tendered to the inquiry show Mr Owen's campaign manager Hugh Thomson emailed two other party head office staff on December 15, 2010: "confirming today's discussions, the cheque committed to the Newcastle seat has been sent by [Liberal MP] Chris Hartcher express post to HQ for the purpose of buying into the Target Seat Package."

"Newcastle is not buying into the Target Seat Package and accordingly, please hold to cheque for Tim," Mr Thomson wrote.

The inquiry was also shown a list of key seats package payments that Mr McInnes compiled.

It records $35,000 paid for a package for the seat of Newcastle paid on December 16, 2010 "via Free Enterprise".

Counsel assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson SC queried how Mr McInnes had been able to record the Newcastle payment as coming from the Free Enterprise Foundation when the Boardwalk Resources cheque would not have arrived at the time the list was drawn up.

Mr McInnes said he would have been acting on information from either Mr Neeham or Mr Nicolaou.

Mr Nicolaou has since resigned as the chairman of Liberal fundraising arm the Millennium Forum and Mr Neeham left his position as state director last year to take up a position at a polling and lobbying firm.

Both men are due to give evidence to the inquiry on Friday afternoon.

"I am not corrupt," Mike Gallacher says after appearing before watchdog

By MICHELLE HARRIS, State politics Sept. 4, 2014, 10:45 p.m.

Mike Gallacher outside ICAC on Thursday.

Mike Gallacher outside ICAC on Thursday.

MIKE Gallacher has declared ‘‘I am not corrupt’’ and says he has ‘‘more to give’’ as a politician, insisting the ‘‘big man’’ with ‘‘120k’’ mentioned in a text message is about Newcastle campaign funding he was lining up from Barry O’Farrell – not illegal support from Nathan Tinkler.

Speaking outside the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)  on Thursday, the former police and Hunter minister said it had been a ‘‘difficult time’’ for him and his family since he was accused in early May of hatching ‘‘a corrupt scheme’’ with Buildev director Darren Williams to accept illegal political donations ahead of the 2011 state election.

A defiant Mr Gallacher said he was ‘‘grateful’’ to be able to put his side of the story to  ICAC on Thursday  after being ‘‘basically dragged’’ from the stage of a NSW Police graduation ceremony to be told of the allegations.

He was then forced to resign from his ‘‘dream’’ job as police minister and moved to the crossbench.

About a month later a close family member was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

 He vowed that he would be ‘‘walking back to Parliament’’ and getting back to work.

‘‘But I know in my heart I’m not corrupt and I know in my heart that I have more to give and at the end of the day that will be a matter for the Premier,’’  he said.

Earlier, he told the inquiry he referred to former premier Barry O’Farrell as the ‘‘big man’’.

A text message from former Newcastle MP Tim Owen’s campaign manager Hugh Thomson to him in December 2010, asking ‘‘how’s our big man going with the 120k’’, would be ‘‘consistent with the conversations we were having about Barry O’Farrell at the time’’ about securing a ‘‘key seats’’ package from the Liberal Party’s head office for the local campaign.

Mr Gallacher’s account contradicts the evidence of Mr Thomson, who, as a crucial witness, has told the inquiry he understood references to the ‘‘big man’’, the ‘‘big fish’’ or the ‘‘big whale’’ during the campaign to be about Mr Tinkler, who he believed had pledged $120,000 to Mr Gallacher for Mr Owen’s campaign.

However, Mr Thomson has admitted Mr Gallacher never mentioned Mr Tinkler to him by name.

Mr Gallacher told the inquiry he had not seen Mr Thomson’s text message but had discussed campaign funding for Newcastle with Mr Thomson.

‘‘To the best of my recollection, I indicated that I would talk to the leader [Mr O’Farrell] and express to him the views of Newcastle if they’d like to be involved or considered for a key seat package,’’ Mr Gallacher said.

‘‘Did you speak to Mr O’Farrell about obtaining a key seats package for Newcastle?’’ Commissioner Megan Latham queried.

‘‘Yes, I believe I did,’’ Mr Gallacher replied.

Mr Gallacher also acknowledged  it ‘‘appears so’’ that $7000 Buildev paid for directors David Sharpe and Darren Williams and their families to attend a 2010 New Year’s Eve function with him had ended up in Liberal campaign funds.

Mr Gallacher said they were invited as friends to the function, staged by Peter Doyle of the Restaurant and Catering Association in his honour, although Mr Gallacher was forced to admit he had given private evidence previously to the ICAC that he could not recall Mr Sharpe’s first name and knew him as ‘‘Sharpie’’.

Mr Gallacher said he thought the directors were going to pay only  their meal  cost  at the $1000-a-head fund-raiser.

‘‘Well, just to make it clear you did that because you knew that if money was taken from Buildev or from Mr Williams or from Mr Sharpe ... money in excess of the cost, it would be a breach of the electoral funding laws?’’ counsel assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson SC asked.

‘‘That’s correct,’’ Mr Gallacher said.  He did not know the money was donated to the Liberal Party by the Restaurant and Catering Association, he said. 

Mr Gallacher  said  he had never met or spoken with Nathan Tinkler and had ceased contact with the Buildev directors after being elected.

He admitted that was different to his private evidence that he had last spoken with them in about 2009, but said he had already corrected the information he had given to the ICAC.

 Mr Gallacher said he had opposed Mr Tinkler’s and Buildev’s coal-loader proposal for Mayfield and, when made Hunter minister, divested his portfolio of responsibility for the Hunter Development Corporation, which controlled part of the Mayfield site. 

The inquiry is continuing.

Swansea MP Garry Edwards accused of lying over McCloy cash claim

By MICHELLE HARRIS Sept. 3, 2014, 10 p.m.

Suspended Liberal MP Garry Edwards. Photo: Ryan Osland

Suspended Liberal MP Garry Edwards. Photo: Ryan Osland

SWANSEA MP Garry Edwards has been accused of lying and failing to report to the corruption watchdog that Jeff McCloy gave him an envelope of cash, because the 2011 campaign worker he passed the developer’s money on to has since died.

Mr Edwards, who is suspended from the Liberal Party, admitted to the Independent Commission Against Corruption  yesterday that he accepted an envelope from Mr McCloy that he described as  possibly containing a ‘‘pittance’’ of cash or a Bunnings or other voucher for a raffle.

He knew Mr McCloy – who he said was ‘‘god-like in our part of the world’’ – was banned as a developer from donating to political campaigns but he didn’t think that he ‘‘couldn’t contribute to a raffle’’.

Mr McCloy had called him and asked him around to his Belmont home to discuss his campaign.

As he went to leave, Mr McCloy said ‘‘wait a second’’, left the room then returned with an envelope, handing it over with the words ‘‘here put this towards your raffles’’, Mr Edwards told the inquiry.

He gave the money to Swansea Liberal and campaign member Max Newton and ‘‘I assume whatever was in there was used towards our campaign’’. Mr Newton died earlier this year.

‘‘At no time did I open the envelope to check its contents,’’ Mr Edwards insisted.

Asked why he didn’t report the matter to the ICAC, Mr Edwards said it ‘‘just didn’t occur to me’’ and said no one had advised him to do so.

At that point,  counsel assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson SC  stood the MP down to take evidence from government staffer, John Macgowan.

Mr Macgowan, who works for government leader in the upper house, Duncan Gay, and helped Mr Edwards on his 2008 local government campaign, told the inquiry he was asked to Mr Edwards’s parliamentary office on the night of August 12 this year.

The MP, who was with his electoral staffer Nicholas Jones, told him he’d received an envelope from Mr McCloy.

‘‘He indicated to me that he did not know the sum of money in the envelope but it was clear to me he knew there was cash inside the envelope,’’ Mr Macgowan said.

He said he told the Swansea MP ‘‘that his best course of action politically and personally was to inform the ICAC’’, with Mr McCloy scheduled to give evidence within days and because ‘‘ICAC will find out’’.

 He was told the envelope had been given  to Mr Newton.

‘‘At which point the staff member suggested then there was no reason to tell them [the ICAC], Mr Newton is deceased and couldn’t dispute – not words to the effect of our version of events – but any other suggestion,’’ Mr Macgowan told the inquiry.

He said he told Premier Mike Baird’s strategy director, Nigel Blunden, the next day of the conversation. He advised him to make a file note and contact the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s legal advisers.

Mr McCloy, who has resigned as Newcastle lord mayor,  has given  public evidence to the ICAC that he had given about $1500 to $1800 – ‘‘whatever was in my wallet’’ to Mr Edwards.

Tim Owen and Andrew Cornwell  have quit as Newcastle and Charlestown MPs after admitting they accepted $10,000 in envelopes from the developer.

‘‘You rang him and you solicited money from McCloy, didn’t you?’’ Mr Watson put to Mr Edwards, after recalling him  yesterday.

‘‘No, I did not,’’ Mr Edwards replied.

‘‘And what’s more ... he gave you the cash he had on him at the time, didn’t he?’’ Mr Watson said.

‘‘I have no idea,’’ Mr Edwards said.

Mr Watson: ‘‘And Mr Edwards, it goes further, you got together with Mr Jones didn’t you and agreed not to bring this matter before ICAC, isn’t that right?’’ 

Mr Edwards: ‘‘Absolutely not.’’

‘‘And you came here today with the intention of telling a little bit of the truth mixed with a bunch of lies to fool ICAC, isn’t that right?’’ Mr Watson pressed.

‘‘Not at all,’’ Mr Edwards replied.

Mr Edwards insisted it was Mr McCloy who rang him.

‘‘In our part of the world Mr McCloy is god-like so if Jeff  McCloy says do you want to talk about your campaign, you want to talk about your campaign,’’ he said.

The inquiry also heard that former resources and energy minister Chris Hartcher telephoned Mr Edwards a few months after the 2011 election to ask him how he’d feel about Newcastle development company Buildev being given an extension for its marina development proposal for Crown Land at Swansea.

Mr Edwards, who had publicly opposed to the project, said he replied: ‘‘Tell them to f--- off.’’

Mr Hartcher replied ‘‘OK mate’’ and the call ended, Mr Edwards said.

He described as ‘‘ludicrous nonsense’’ suggestions from former Newcastle MP Tim Owen’s campaign manager Hugh Thomson that Buildev had paid for most of his Swansea campaign.

The inquiry is continuing.

The story Swansea MP Garry Edwards accused of lying over McCloy cash claim first appeared on Newcastle Herald.

Surprise witness implicates suspended Liberal MP Garry Edwards in plot to lie to ICAC

By Michaela Whitbourn, Kate McClymont Sept. 3, 2014, 4:05 p.m.

A surprise witness has given sensational evidence that suspended Liberal MP Garry Edwards planned to lie to a corruption inquiry about an illegal cash donation from a property developer.

John Macgowan, a staffer in the Baird government, told the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Wednesday that Mr Edwards came to see him on August 12 his year to admit he received an "envelope of cash" from property developer Jeff McCloy.

Mr Macgowan said he advised Mr Edwards that "ICAC will find out" and he should come clean before Mr McCloy gave evidence at the inquiry.

The revelations came minutes after Mr Edwards, the member for Swansea, told the commission he had not looked inside the envelope when Mr McCloy handed it over before the March 2011 election.

Mr Macgowan, an adviser to Roads Minister Duncan Gay who previously worked for the former police minister Mike Gallacher, said Mr Edwards told him that he had given the envelope to campaign official Max Newton.

He gave evidence that Mr Edwards told him that because Mr Newton was dead, there was nobody to dispute his version of events.

Counsel assisting the ICAC, Geoffrey Watson, SC, accused Mr Edwards of coming to the commission to tell some of the truth mixed with "a bunch of lies to fool ICAC".

Mr Edwards emphatically denied the claim.

Earlier on Wednesday, the ICAC devastating evidence that suspended Liberal MP Bart Bassett asked a property development company linked to Nathan Tinkler to make illegal donations to his election campaign.

Mark Regent, who managed projects for Mr Tinkler's company Buildev, told the ICAC that Mr Bassett came to see him before the March 2011 election to ask for financial support.

His evidence contradicts Mr Bassett's claims that he was kept at "arm's length" from funding for his campaign and was not aware of any donations from the company.

"I trusted [Liberal Party] head office to manage the process," Mr Bassett said on Wednesday.

Appearing after Mr Bassett, Mr Regent said the then Liberal candidate "came to my office to talk about campaign funds...[and] to ask us for us for assistance".

"In broad terms, he was talking about the difficulty of election funding," he said.

Mr Regent said Mr Bassett asked if there was "any way" Buildev could support his campaign.

"I said, 'we can't', and then he said, 'do you think you might be able to speak to Darren [Williams, the co-founder of Buildev],'" Mr Regent said.

He said he believed he passed on a message to Mr Williams and he received a response "along the lines of 'Bart's OK', or something had happened".

Mr Bassett called some time later and said, "can you thank Darren for the support", he added.

The ICAC has heard that Buildev arranged for an $18,000 donation to be made to Mr Bassett's election campaign, in breach of laws passed in NSW in 2009 banning donations from developers.

The money was paid by Mr Tinkler's company Boardwalk Resources to an alleged Liberal Party front organisation called the Free Enterprise Foundation in late 2010 and was later channelled into Mr Bassett's campaign account.

Giving evidence earlier on Wednesday, Mr Bassett said he could not explain the $18,000 donation.

"I didn't operate the account; I didn't have any knowledge of it," Mr Bassett said.

Mr Regent said he had several discussions with Mr Bassett, the former mayor of Hawkesbury and the member for the western Sydney seat of Londonderry, about donations to assist the Liberal Party between 2007 and 2010.

"I believed they were for the Liberal Party which he was representing," he said.

Mr Bassett's lawyer Matthew Dicker accused Mr Regent of lying to the commission.

"This conversation never occurred did it, Mr Regent?" he asked of the alleged meeting in which Mr Bassett asked for financial support.

"It occurred," Mr Regent replied.

Mr Bassett agreed that Buildev executives landed a helicopter in his yard for a "private" meeting in 2007 when he was mayor of Hawkesbury.

"Did you see any problem with meeting at your house?" Mr Bassett's lawyer asked.

"No, I didn't, because it was just a meet and greet," he said.

Mr Bassett, a helicopter pilot, added it was convenient because he had facilities at his house for landing the aircraft.

He insisted that Buildev did not have a development application with the council at the time.

Counsel assisting the commission, Geoffrey Watson, SC, alleged that Mr Bassett subsequently made decisions "greatly to [Buildev's] financial benefit" around the time the company made donations to him.

But Mr Bassett said that he was kept at "arm's length" of the funding for his campaign and was not aware of any payments by the company.

Buildev made a $23,500 donation to Mr Bassett in 2008, a year before the ban on developer donations came into effect.

Evidence suggests the money was set aside and used on the MP's 2011 campaign.

Mr Bassett admitted he used his casting vote as mayor to support a nursing home proposal by Buildev in September 2009.

He also supported a controversial housing development in North Richmond.

"My voting was based on the issue at hand ... nothing to do with the landowner," Mr Bassett said.

He denied ever receiving a bribe, a donation or a benefit from Buildev.

"I believed they were for the Liberal Party which he was representing"

The story Surprise witness implicates suspended Liberal MP Garry Edwards in plot to lie to ICAC first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

Stop Jodi's Trucks "wasn't my idea", says Joe Tripodi

By MICHELLE HARRIS Sept. 1, 2014, 12:32 p.m.

Joe Tripodi.

Joe Tripodi.

LABOR powerbroker Joe Tripodi has admitted he helped Buildev produce thousands of anonymous brochures that he knew would damage the reelection chances of his party's sitting Newcastle MP but has told a corruption inquiry "it wasn't my idea".

And he claimed he couldn't recall handling a confidential Treasury document about a container terminal proposal for the former steelworks site at Mayfield, part of which was leaked to the Newcastle Herald, but that such government documents are leaked "all the time".

Giving further evidence at the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Monday, the former Fairfield MP denied doing Buildev's "bidding" and pressing then Treasurer Eric Roozendaal to block the container terminal proposal from going to the Newcastle Port Corporation's board for endorsement, to ensure Buildev's alternate plan for a coal loader on the site remained alive.

Mr Tripodi said he felt no loyalty to then Newcastle MP and Hunter minister Jodi McKay because she had been "backgrounding" the media about a meeting in mid-2010 he'd had with then Lord Mayor and subsequent 2011 independent state candidate John Tate at NSW Parliament.

But Mr Tripodi said he did not come up with the idea for the brochures, which were sent to thousands of Newcastle homes and targeted Ms McKay over her support for containers just weeks before the 2011 election.

Apart from being Ms McKay's preferred project, it was also a long-standing Labor policy commitment for Newcastle and its development had initially been put out to tender under Mr Tripodi when he was ports minister. 

But its approval would have spelled the end for the coal loader proposal, which Nathan Tinkler and the development company he part-owned, Buildev, had put forward in 2010.

Mr Tripodi said he only became involved in the anonymous brochures through Buildev consultant and former Labor staffer Ann Wills and when Wetherill Park printer Vince Fedele got in touch with him about them.

Mr Tripodi said he agreed to advise him on aspects of the brochures, but claimed he told Mr Fedele "I wish you wouldn't be doing this job" and that had removed the "political flavour" to the brochures, which were titled "Stop Jodi's Trucks!" and warned of 1000 trucks a day on suburban streets due to the container terminal.

Commissioner Megan Latham was critical of Mr Tripodi for not answering questions about why he became involved.

"Why did you not say to Mr Fedele and Ms Wills 'I don't want anything to do with this pamphlet, it's a pamphlet that's against the interests of my party'," she said.

"I told Mr Fedele that he shouldn't do it...he pressed ahead with it," Mr Tripodi said.

"It's still not an answer to the question," Commissioner Latham said.

Mr Tripodi said he had never denied his part in their production: "I regret it, but that's what happened". 

However he later admitted to the inquiry that he was the one who gave Mr Fedele's name to Ms Wills when she asked him about a printer she could use.

He said he initially thought the idea for the brochures may have arisen from Ms Wills' "shocking relationship" with Ms McKay, specifically the spite Ms Wills had towards the then Newcastle MP.

Mr Tripodi appeared confused as to whether he knew who was paying for the brochures, which the inquiry has heard Buildev funded.

He initially said he didn't know, then that he learnt at some point it was Buildev.

He also could not recall telling anyone he was looking for a job in the ports sector and was "surprised" at suggestions he was seeking a job with Nathan Tinkler's Hunter Ports company, which would have built the coal loader had the part Tinkler-owned Buildev had secured development approval for the project.

"After Parliament I just wanted to have a rest to be honest," Mr Tripodi said.

Asked to explain why he had also pointed out potential Sydney and Central Coast land deals to Buildev, Mr Tripodi said: "because I'm an obliging type of person".

Mr Tripodi also denied pressing Mr Roozendaal to kill off the container terminal plan after he was flown by helicopter to Newcastle to meet with Buildev in November 2010.

"Joe going to get Eric to stop Anglo deal [the container terminal] going to the board this Thursday," a Buildev record of the meeting reads.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson SC told the inquiry phone records showed contact between Mr Tripodi and Mr Roozendaal "ramps up" after Mr Tripodi's "helicopter meeting".

Prior to that, "there's not much contact at all", Mr Watson said.

Mr Tripodi said he and Mr Roozendaal were colleagues and in regular contact throughout 2010 and 2011.

"I'm sorry, it ebbs and flows counsel," Mr Tripodi said.

Mr Tripodi said he could not recall receiving or giving to anyone a Treasury document that considered both the container terminal and Buildev's coal loader idea.

A page of the document critical of the container terminal was leaked to the Newcastle Herald before the 2011 election. Ms Wills has told the inquiry she gave the page to a Herald journalist, after she was given it by Buildev director Darren Williams.

Text messages tendered to the inquiry show Mr Williams texted Ms Wills at the time to advise "Joe is panicking" the document had been leaked.

Mr Watson said the document's leaking caused a major "kerfuffle", including then Premier Kristina Keneally ringing Mr Roozendaal.

"Why would you be panicking unless you had something to do with it?" Mr Watson put to Mr Tripodi.

"They're his [Darren Williams] words, you need to ask him," Mr Tripodi replied.

The inquiry is continuing.