2016 12 04 – If I could give you a green pill that lets you see NSW Premier Mike Baird’s decision to gut ICAC was to save the career of federal Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos and stop any further examination into the approval of the Great Barrier Reef Coal Mine … would you take it?
“It will look like payback from a vengeful government” said Former ICAC assistant commissioner Anthony Whealy after Premier Mike Baird pressured ICAC Commissioner Megan Latham into resigning.
The point that the NSW ICAC investigations went from Obeid, MacDonald & co (ALP) to Liberal Party (LNP) figures such as Sinodinos, Grayson & co, was ICAC’s Operation Credo looking into Australia Water Holdings.
NSW voters rightly kicked ALP out of office after the Obeid & Macdonald scandal rocked the party faithful. Credo morphed into Operation Spicer.
By the time Premier Barry O’Farrell fell on his Grange, 20% of the sitting members of parliament did not seek re-election after ICAC’s revelations..
During ICAC’s Operation Credo, Australia Water Holdings boss, Nick Di Girolamo sensationally produced an insurance policy .. a Get Out of Jail Free card … the smoking gun … a Thank You note from Premier Barry O’Farrell for the gift of a 1957 bottle of Penfolds Grange Hermitage.
O’Farrell resigned – embarassed after he denied the gift while on the stand at ICAC.
Kristina Kenneally and other observers realise there is a lot more to that story to be told.
So who was Australia Water Holdings and what did they do?
AWH’s directors were an interesting group. Wayne Myers headed the Queensland arm of Australian Water Holdings, Queensland Water Holdings. QWH’s directors included:
Jon Grayson, Director-General of Queensland Premier Campbell Newman’s Dept Premier & Cabinet.
Mr Grayson sat on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) board and changed the charter from “environmental protection” to “economic benefit”.
That was a vital obstacle to the approval of the coal port for Adani, Gina Reinhart and Clive Palmer’s coal interests in the Galilee basin.
The approval of the Great Barrier Reef Coal Mine needed the politically unpopular decision to dump the dredging from the channel to the coal port and wwithin the Marine Park boundary.
Thousands of people want to see a federal ICAC look into the approval process of Adani’s Great Barrier Reef Coal Mine.
Grayson and his business partner Wayne Myers were working on a development project in Ipswich’s Ripley Valley. Mr Newman rejected the notion that a well paid government job and development company was a conflict of interest.
Mr Myers and Mr Grayson were business partners in Brisbane-based gas company Gasfields Water Management. AWH also owned shares in Gasfields Water.
They remain partners in a restructured business, Gasfield Water and Waste Services created to “facilitate the exit of AWH’’ from the earlier joint venture, which originally listed Eddie Obeid Jr as one of six shareholders before Mr Obeid transferred his shares to his cousin Dennis Jabour.
ICAC evidence reveals Mr Myers emailed colleagues in June 2012 about plans to meet Mr Grayson to discuss funding issues around Ripley Valley.
Mr Grayson was appointed Director-General of the Premier’s Department three months before the meeting.
“I am meeting with DG Premiers (I believe you know him) and Carl Wulff CEO Ipswich City Council at 11am next Monday to discuss the operational and logistical issues surrounding (council) again taking control of the Ripley Valley development and how the associated infrastructure can be funded,” Mr Myers wrote in an email to AWH chief executive Nick Di Girolamo. He also sent the email to fellow Queensland arm director Tony Bellas and former Liberal senator turned lobbyist Santo Santoro, who also later became a director.
AWH made more than $500,000 in Queensland, and had negotiated a $5 million contract with a developer before it closed its subsidiaries in 2014.
Besides his QWH holding, Mr Bellas is chair of Shine Lawyers and ERM Power. Mr Bellas made the news during the last days of the Bentley Blockade when it was revealed that ERM was Metgasco’s largest shareholder.
He wasn’t happy.
The Twitter account of Tony Bellas. Of course this author is not accusing Mr Bellas or Grayson, O’Farrell etc of anything illegal.That is ICAC’s job – to hold controversial and questionable conduct to account.
In a sordid scandal full of political turns and intrigue, it was hard to save the best until last.
Enter the Chairman of Australia Water Holdings … Arthur Sinodinos, affectionately known as #SeeNoDonors by the Twitterati
During his ICAC testimony, the federal government’s Cabinet Secretary & Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos fell back on the standard courtroom response “I don’t recall”.
Other scandals that plagued Arthur Sinodinos during the time he was Treasurer of the NSW Liberals was involvement with the:
Free Enterprise Foundation – Provided anonymous donations to the Liberals;
and Parakeelia – Liberal party software that the taxpayers were funding.
The Liberal Party faithful rallied to the Cabinet Secretary’s rescue and fasley claimed Sinodinos was “cleared by ICAC” SMH 2016 Sinodinos “cleared” of corruption.
Mathias Cormann said “Arthur was only ever questioned as a witness,” he said. “He was never a target of that investigation. ”
The ICAC stated it had not finished its investigation.
Pic from Buzzfeed shows Turnbull with Sinodinos walking towards the Party Room to take over the leadership from the Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos also avoided major legal headaches when shareholders dropped a costly case against him.
Ben Eltham @ summarised the situation, thus:
I’m just going to make a few points about Arthur Sunodinos
1. He’s Cabinet Secretary – the guy that takes the minutes of the executive
2.Sinodinos is therefore in one of the single most important roles in Australian executive government
3. Sinodinos was a director then Chair of Australian Water Holdings at the time the Obeid family bought a 30% stake. He says he didn’t know.
4. While Sinodinos was deputy chair of AWH, the company donated $70K to the NSW Liberal Party. He says he didn’t know.
5. When AWH donated to the Liberal Party, Sinodinos was also Treasurer of the NSWLiberal party, which accepted the $ He says he didn’t know.
6. When Sinodinos was later chair of the finance committee of the NSW Libs, the party accepted $600K from the Free Enterprise Foundation. Did he know?
7. The NSW Electoral Commission found the Free Enterprise Foundation was a sham charity – a laundrry for donors to remain anonymous.
8.Contrary to media reports, ICAC has not ‘cleared’ Sinodinos. Operation Credo is yet to report.
9. ICAC testimony established that property developers donated to the NSW Liberal Party via the FEF. This is unlawful under NSW Electoral Law
10. To sum up … How is Arthur Sinodinos still in Cabinet?
After O’Farrell and the 20% of Liberals exposed by ICAC left the frontbench, the LNP could have lost control. They conducted a very good campaign to bring in Mike Baird. The public bought the line that he would change the style of government and the Liberals were re-elected in March 2015.
Baird’s actions in silencing the Commissioner beg looking for the reasons. ICAC Operation Credo’s report into Cabinet Secretary Sinodinos’s association with Eddie Obeid certainly would be embarrassing for the Liberal Party.
Operation Credo probed allegations that the company improperly billed the state-owned utility Sydney Water for lavish expenses, including limousines and airfares.
The inquiry crossed party lines and examined allegations that the family of disgraced former Labor minister Eddie Obeid had a secret $3 million stake in the company, although the Obeids have insisted the money was a loan.
ICAC issued this 26 August 2016:
Operation Spicer primarily concerned allegations that, during the lead up to the 2011 NSW state election, certain NSW Liberal Party candidates and others solicited and received political donations which were not declared as required by the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act 1981.
The allegations included that some of these political donations were made by and received from prohibited donors (property developers) and some exceeded the applicable caps on political donations. The Commission also examined whether in the lead up to the 2011 NSW state election members or associates of the NSW Liberal Party used, or attempted to use, the Free Enterprise Foundation as a means of disguising the true identity of donors and evading the prohibition on receiving political donations from property developers.
Further, the Commission examined whether certain members of Parliament used, or attempted to use, their power and influence to improperly benefit Buildev Pty Ltd in respect of a proposed development of a coal terminal at the Port of Newcastle.
As part of the public inquiry held in aid of this investigation, the Commission also took evidence in Operation Credo, an investigation that concerned allegations of corrupt conduct involving Australian Water Holdings Pty Ltd.
As noted on the ICAC website, the Commission has been unable to progress the publication of the Operation Credo report owing to the criminal proceedings being conducted by the Director of Public Prosecutions against Mr Edward Obeid and Mr Moses Obeid.
While those proceedings arise out of the Operations Cyrus and Jasper investigations, the Commission is of the view, in accordance with section 18 of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988, that the publication of the Operation Credo report during the currency of criminal proceedings may prejudice the right of the accused to a fair trial.
Before ICAC’s Operation Credo reported, the new NSW Premier, hot off his victory sacking the elected Mayors and local councils during the forced mergers, solved the problem of further embarrassment for the federal Liberal Party by replacing the ICAC Commissioner..
Rather than champion the federal ICAC and applaud it, as Baird said he would during the election campaign, he traded off some new rules for political donations and went after the ICAC Commissioner.
Commissioner Megan Latham’s role became untenable and she resigned as ICAC boss on Nov 23, 2016.
The public’s perception of ICAC’s Operations Credo & Spicer is they were successful in ‘draining the swamp’ of less than truthful or honest politicians.
Commentators see the progression of Baird’s stance – replacing a Premier who resigned over ICAC revelations, to supporting ICAC before the election, then cutting funding and pressuring the Commissioner into giving up her job.
“The perception will arise immediately in the community’s mind that there’s a very direct link between the two,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday. “It will look like payback from a vengeful government” said Former ICAC assistant commissioner Anthony Whealy.
‘The perception is that this is corrupt’: former ICAC assistant commissioner Anthony Whealy blasts Mike Baird
“But I’m suggesting the perception in there that this is done to weaken ICAC’s power and to bring Megan Latham into line so that she doesn’t step in again and offend the politicians,” he said. “That’s the perception. And it’s a very bad perception.”
The new NSW ICAC is a three-person commission – a chief commissioner and two part-time commissioners – to replace the current single commissioner model.
The chief commissioner and at least one other commissioner would have to agree before a public inquiry was held.
This saga is current and ongoing. There are developments happening all the time.
Nick Di “Grange” Girolamo, Australia Water Holdings boss, is now a lawyer acting for Eddie Obeid Snr.
This author, Mark Anning, is not implying any illegal activity on the part of anyone mentioned in this article.
GBRMPA = Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority