Robyn Parker heads into the ICAC today. Photo: Daniel MunozAT least one Hunter Liberal MP looks to have escaped unscathed a turnin the witness seat at the Independent Commission Against Corruption’spolitical donations inquiry.
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Maitland MP Robyn Parker told the inquiry this morning she knewnothing about any money that former Newcastle MP Tim Owen and hiscampaign manager Hugh Thomson had speculated her campaign received asa share from $120,000 that a “big man”, allegedly Nathan Tinkler, hadpledged to Mr Owen’s.
And CDs that Newcastle Lord Mayor and developer Jeff McCloy had toldthe inquiry he may have paid Ms Parker’s husband for are likely a”family band” recording her son Dylan made after he was diagnosed witha tumour, the inquiry was told.
For one brief moment, it looked like another Hunter MP was in thedoldrums when counsel assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson SCrevealed one prohibited donor, Bill Saddington, had given $600 to MsParker’s campaign via a fundraiser auction.
But the money was swiftly refunded when Ms Parker’s camp learned MrSaddington had lodged a development application and could be deemed aproperty developer under electoral funding laws, as well as hisbetter-known role as the owner of bulk hardware business Saddingtons,the inquiry heard.
Her campaign manager, Maitland City Cr Philip Penfold, reported thedonation to the Liberal Party, Ms Parker, the former environmentminister said.
The money had been given at a cocktail fundraiser event.
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“Fairly soon after that event he [Mr Saddington] had submitted adevelopment application for a subdivision so we refunded his donationfor the auction prize and also his attendance at the cocktail party,”Ms Parker said.
Ms Parker gave $17,000 to her own campaign.
The inquiry was shown records of texts between Mr Owen and Mr Thomsondiscussing advice from former minister and senior Liberal ChrisHartcher to Mr Owen that $120,000 was to be split between his and twoother seats.
Mr Owen suspected the money had been shared with “RP” and “AC”,thought to be references to Ms Parker and former Charlestown MP AndrewCornwell.
Mr Thomson has given evidence he believed the money was coming from MrTinkler, and was arranged by former police minister and senior HunterLiberal Mike Gallacher.
Mr Gallacher’s legal team has suggested Mr Gallacher referred toformer premier Barry O’Farrell as the “big man” and not Mr Tinkler,and that the $120,000 may be funding from the Liberal Party’s headoffice for key seats.
In any case, Ms Parker said the money had nothing to do with her.
Her campaign had already paid for its “key seats package”, and it hadbeen drummed into her that candidates were not to touch the money.
But she said she believed Mr O’Farrell would have been too busycampaigning as opposition leader to get involved in the party’sfunding for Hunter seats.
Ms Parker was also asked about references Mr McCloy made during hisevidence to a “nagging thing in the back of my head” about him havingpaid Ms Parker’s husband for some CDs.
Ms Parker said she believed she knew what that was about.
“My son was very ill, he had a golf ball-sized tumour in his head andone of the things we did when he was sick was make up a list of thingshe wanted to do -essentially you’d call it a bucket list- before hedied,” Ms Parker said.
“One of those things was recording a CD with the family band.”
“Is your husband a muso of some kind?” Mr Watson asked.
“Well he’d like to be, he’s a doctor,” Ms Parker replied.
“They’re all talented musicians.
“I have some CDs left if you want one?” she offered.
Ms Parker said her son, who had featured on the ABC’s AustralianStory, and his band perform at charity functions “so a number ofpeople bought CDs and contributed to their endeavours and nextproduction”.
The inquiry is continuing.
The identity of a mysterious “big man” who helped bankroll Liberal candidates before the last election is firming as embattled coal baron Nathan Tinkler after state MP Robyn Parker rejected claims at a corruption inquiry that it could be Barry O’Farrell.
Ms Parker, the member for Maitland, was called to the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Friday after text messages suggested she may have received a share of a potentially illegal $120,000 donation from the “big man” before the 2011 state election.
The commission has heard the money was to be split between the then Newcastle Liberal candidate Tim Owen and two other candidates.
Mr Owen wrote in a text message to his campaign manager in December 2010 that he suspected the other two recipients of the cash would be “RP and AC”, a reference to the Charlestown Liberal candidate Andrew Cornwell and Ms Parker.
But Ms Parker rejected claims she received any of the money, and she has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
The barrister for former police minister Mike Gallacher – one of the MPs under investigation by the ICAC – has previously suggested that the “big man” was the then Liberal leader, Mr O’Farrell, who could approve funding for key seats from the party’s head office.
But Ms Parker said it was “inconceivable” that Mr O’Farrell would have been “occupying himself with funding for campaigns” so close to the March election.
The inquiry has heard evidence that the “big man” was Mr Tinkler, whose property development group Buildev allegedly made illegal donations to Mr Owen’s campaign.
Property developers have been banned from making political donations in NSW since 2009.
In a week that has seen Mr Owen and Mr Cornwell quit parliament and a third Liberal MP step aside from the party over allegations they received illegal donations, Ms Parker emerged unscathed after her brief stint in the witness box.
She gave evidence her campaign team refunded a $600 donation from a property developer once they became aware the payment had come from a banned donor.
Bill Saddington, who owns a property development company, made the payment for an auction prize at a fundraiser cocktail party in September 2010, six months before the March 2011 election.
“I’m not suggesting this is anything wrong on your part,” counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson, SC, said.
“I just want to point to the point that Mr Saddington was a donor, relatively small, to your campaign.”
The inquiry heard that the president of the Maitland State Electoral Conference (SEC), which includes all the Liberal Party branches in a state electorate, realised after the auction that Mr Saddington had lodged a development application.
This was reported to the Liberal Party and Ms Parker said “we refunded his donation for the auction prize and also his attendance at the cocktail party”.