The ICAC inquiry found several former NSW Liberal politicians and prominent businessmen had acted with the intention to evade political donation laws in 2011. The findings were released yesterday, after almost two years of investigation into the Liberal donations, with recommended charges to be laid against former Liberal minister Chris Hartcher, current MP and former police minister Mike Gallacher and former Labor minister Joe Tripodi for their part in the unlawful conduct.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) exposed several former Liberal MPs who intended to evade the laws of the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act. These included the former Newcastle Lord Mayor Jeff McCloy, and MPs Chris Spence, Garry Edwards, Andrew Cornwell, Craig Baumann, Darren Webber, Bart Bassett and Tim Owen for their part in the illegal political fundraising.
The outlawing of political donations from developers in NSW was introduced in 2010, and Operation Spicer detailed how Liberal MPs and businessmen laundered money through fundraising events and the Free Enterprise Foundation, a Liberal Party linked organisation, to fund their 2011 State election campaign. With the Foundation donating a lump sum of $693,000 to the NSW Liberals over three days, which is in heavy contrast to its $50,000 donation to the Party in the 2009 election.
NSW Premier Mike Baird said it was a “betrayal of public trust”, but stated the former MP’s and developers had already paid a “heavy, heavy price” with ICAC naming them in the report and they would carry that for life.
ICAC recommended Mr Tripodi, former Newcastle Labor MP, face charges on his misconduct in a public office for the leaking of a confidential Treasury report. Mr Tripodi leaked the report in the interests of former mining tycoon Nathan Tinkler’s company Buildev, who was facing disapproval from Mayor Jodi McKay, at the time, for the company’s proposed fifth coal terminal in Newcastle.
The inquiry also recommended Mr Hartcher face charges of larceny over three cheques worth $4000, that were written for the benefit of the NSW Liberal Party, but instead were banked by a law firm and later given to Mr Hartcher. Prosecution was also recommended by the commission to bring charges against Mr Cornwell, his wife Samantha Brookes, Tim Koelma and others for giving false or misleading evidence to the inquiry.
The inquiry was initially pursued for a $5000 donation believed to be made to the NSW Liberal Party by a building company, but was instead found to have been given to Eightybyfive, a company owned by Mr Koelma, an employee of Hunter Valley property developer, Hilton Grugeon, who was also under investigation and found to have acted unlawfully.
After the scandal was leaked in 2011 multiple NSW Liberal MPs resigned or quit the party. Forcing NSW Premier Mike Baird to restructure the donation laws in 2014, with culprits facing a maximum of 10 years imprisonment and allowing charges to occur up to 10 years after the crime was committed.