Two former NSW MPs could face criminal charges after the state's corruption watchdog handed down the findings of its explosive investigation into illegal political donations.
A string of prominent businessmen and Liberal MPs tried to evade election donation laws in the lead-up to the 2011 state election, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) found.
It’s asked prosecutors to consider charging former Liberal energy minister Chris Hartcher over his use of blank cheques totalling $4000 which were made out to the Liberal Party.
It’s also recommended charges be laid against former Labor minister Joe Tripodi – the only person found to have engaged in serious corrupt conduct – for giving a confidential Treasury document to former mining magnate Nathan Tinkler’s Buildev company.
Premier Mike Baird slammed the conduct revealed in the long-awaited Operation Spicer report as “completely unacceptable”, admitting the revelations had undermined the public’s trust in government.
Current Liberal crossbencher Mike Gallacher, who was one of the highest-profile scalps from the investigation which began almost two years ago, would not return to cabinet in the wake of the report, Mr Baird said.
The former police minister was one of 18 individuals, including seven former Liberal MPs, who acted with the intention of evading the statewide ban on donations from property developers before the 2011 state election.
However, the ICAC was restricted from making corrupt conduct findings over electoral law breaches alone after the Baird government made changes to its legislation in the wake of the High Court’s ruling on top silk Margaret Cunneen’s case.
Premier Baird defended the reforms, saying the report justified the tough actions taken when a number of former Liberal MPs were dumped from the cabinet in 2014.
Those MPs “paid a heavy price”, Mr Baird told reporters in Sydney.
Mr Gallacher has meanwhile remained defiant and says he will not resign from parliament despite his suspension from the parliamentary Liberal Party.
“I will continue to vigorously protest these findings. I will have more to say on them specifically when parliament resumes,” he said in a statement.
Ten Liberal MPs stepped aside after being named in the inquiry, which heard allegations about the use of slush funds to disguise political donations.
ICAC’s report found that between November and December 2010, the Free Enterprise Foundation was used to channel up to $693,000 in donations to the NSW Liberal Party so that the identity of the true donors was disguised.
Undisclosed political donations were also channelled through a business called Eight By Five to benefit the party’s 2011 state election campaign on the Central Coast.
Former Liberal MP for Charlestown MP Andrew Cornwell and his wife Samantha Brookes were also referred to the DPP for a possible charge for giving false or misleading evidence, the ICAC report said.
Federal senator Arthur Sinodinos, who was the Liberal Party’s treasurer when illegal developer donations were being accepted, escaped any serious findings of misconduct.
In a statement, the NSW Liberal Party apologised for the “reprehensible conduct of a small number of its elected representatives, members and activists, which was revealed during the inquiry”.
“That conduct disgusted the honest, law abiding parliamentarians, office bearers, members, donors and supporters of the Liberal Party,” it said.
Which MPs took donations from developers?
- JOE TRIPODI, ex-Labor minister – Found to have engaged in serious corrupt conduct by giving a confidential Treasury report on Newcastle port to the director of Nathan Tinkler’s Buildev company. ICAC recommends a charge of misconduct in public office be considered.
- MICHAEL GALLACHER, ex-Liberal minister, now crossbench – Acted with the intention of evading laws that ban political donations from property developers and require the disclosure of donations. No charges recommended.
- CHRIS HARTCHER, ex-Liberal minister – Acted with the intention of evading laws that ban political donations from property developers, cap donations and require the disclosure of donations. Recommended charge of larceny be considered over $4000 in bank cheques payable to the Liberal Party.
- ANDREW CORNWELL, ex-Liberal MP for Charlestown – Acted with the intention of evading laws banning political donations from property developers, and requiring the disclosure of donations. Recommended charge: Giving false and misleading evidence.
- BART BASSETT – former Londonderry MP for Liberals – Knowingly solicited a donation from a property developer. No charge recommended
Other Liberal Mps Who Acted With The Intention Of Evading Election Funding Laws:
- DARREN WEBBER, former Wyong MP
- CHRIS SPENCE, former The Entrance MP
- TIM OWEN, former Newcastle MP
- CRAIG BAUMANN, former Port Stephens MP
- GARRY EDWARDS, former Swansea MP
Others who could be prosecuted for giving false and misleading evidence:
- SAMANTHA BROOKES, Andrew Cornwell’s wife
- TIMOTHY KOELMA, Chris Hartcher’s ex-staffer
- WILLIAM SADDINGTON, owned building supply company
- TIM GUNASINGHE, property developer’s associate