(April 07, 2014) Introduction
Much to Queensland’s surprise, Premier Campbell Newman was named in New South Wales this week as political worlds collided over former NSW Labor MP, Eddie Obeid. The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) heard that Newman had received a $5,000 donation when he was Lord Mayor of Brisbane toward his re-election fund in exchange for a meeting with the Obed-linked company, Australian Water Holdings (AWH).
This is the grubby side of politics – Qld premier Campbell Newman demanded a $5 grand donation when mayor to get a meeting with him #icac
— Kate McClymont (@Kate_McClymont) April 7, 2014
AWH has been at the centre of a series of scandals involving politicians from both of the major political parties.
It was NSW chief executive of the Australian Hotels Association, Paul Nicolaou, who made the startling revelation at ICAC on Monday. An email exhibit showed a conversation between he and AWH chief executive, Nick Di Girolamo, in which he appeared to be acting for a third party to secure the donation in return for the meeting with Campbell Newman.
At the ICAC hearing, counsel assisting the commission, Geoffrey Watson SC, asked if this was “the price of meeting Campbell Newman?”
‘‘Yes, if you look at it that way,’’ Nicolaou replied.
“Mr Newman had a price. He would meet Di Girolamo if Di Girolamo paid $5,000. Correct?”
Nicolaou informed the inquiry that he then approached former Queensland Liberal president Con Galtos who arranged the meeting between Newman and Di Girolamo.
Outside ICAC, Galtos denied he was the ‘bag man’.
“I would never have said the words that he attributes to me,” he told the media.
The email exchange also detailed that a cheque should be made out to “Forward Brisbane Leadership”. This fund was set up by Newman and associate Greg Bowden in 2003. Over nine years, it received $7.33 million in donations and payments. From 2004, it was common for business leaders to luncheon with Campbell Newman in exchange for a donation to the fund, ranging from $1,100 to $5,000.
After a November 2012 Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) investigation found nothing illegal, the Liberal National Party closed down the fund. All donations now go through the party.
Currently on a trade visit to Korea and China, Newman confirmed to the media that the meeting with Di Girolamo had taken place in 2007 with his chief of staff, Ben Myers, present. He referred Di Girolamo on to Brisbane Water but believed nothing eventuated as the entity was being absorbed into a statewide utility.
However, he denied any knowledge of a donation in return for the meeting.
“I was shocked because no-one has ever had to make a donation to see me,” he told The Courier Mail.
“That’s not the way I do business. It wasn’t done with my knowledge or approval. I’ve got no knowledge of anything around the matter. It was at arms length to me.”
Upon learning of the donation two weeks prior to Nicolaou giving evidence at ICAC, Newman repaid the amount.
In Queensland question time last Thursday, April 3, the Premier was asked two questions by the opposition about his Director-General Jon Grayson’s involvement with AWH.
Grayson had been hand-picked by Newman shortly after the March 2012 election and was earning a salary of $687,000. He had appeared in a number of media reports leading up to the ICAC inquiry, named as one of six shareholders in a company called Gasfields Water and Waste Services, which was incorporated into AWH in May 2013.
Other shareholders included Nick Di Girolamo, Eddie Obeid Jr and nephew of Eddie Obeid Snr, Dennis Jabour.
Grayson’s business dealings had gone ahead despite the fact that it was well known that the Obeids and AWH were at the centre of an ongoing ICAC inquiry.
Grayson was also on the board of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. It was to have the final say on the Abbot Point coal terminal expansion. As the harbour would need dredging to allow the docking of bigger cargo ships, at question was whether to dump dredge spoil on land or at sea. At stake were billions of dollars worth of coal and gas from the Queensland interior in the Galilee Basin.
The decision to dump at sea was made. Environmentalists and The Greens argued it would impact the Great Barrier Reef. Conflict of interest calls were made over Grayson but a speedy inquiry by Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt cleared him and found no links to the Obeid family.
Newman, in his response to the opposition’s questions in parliament, backed Grayson. He launched into a tirade, accusing the previous Bligh government of Obeid involvement, the Labor Party of accepting Obeid and AWH donations, and the Labor Member for South Brisbane, Jackie Trad, of doing deals with Obeids when she worked in NSW state parliament.
The ‘Cash for Campbell’ episode may have been a half-baked plan to win Newman’s support. Perhaps AWH was a ‘rat hole’, a way of converting funds to donations for favours later on. Throughout the process, at each link in the chain, a piece of plausible deniability was added by each individual.
(April 09, 2014) Ch1: Cash flows into the LNP
The Courier Mail has revealed further ICAC documents showing that a subsidiary of AWH, Australian Water Queensland urged it’s parent to pay a LNP fundraising bill.
Shortly after the Queensland election, AWQ executive chairman, Wayne Myers, wrote to AWH chief financial officer Robert Groom and copied in Eddie Obeid Jnr.
“We don’t want the new Govt’s political wing on our case chasing money. This is the luncheon that Tony and I attended as approved by Eddie (Obeid Jnr).”
AWQ unsuccessfully lobbied the Queensland Government and various local governments for many years for projects in Queensland.
(April 09, 2014) Ch2: Calls for Inquiry
Brisbane Times has published an article in which the Queensland Opposition has called for a judicial inquiry into Campbell Newman’s electoral fundraiser and any donations made by AWH or the Obeids.
Palmer United Party Queensland leader, Alex Douglas, has also called for an independent investigation into the matter.
Speaking on behalf of the absent Premier, LNP Treasurer Tim Nicholls rejected the calls and demanded Labor Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk reveal all donations made to the Labor party from AWH or Obeid-linked companies.
“The stain of Mr Eddie Obeid and Australian Water Holdings is something that more particularly affects the Labor party,” he told ABC Western Queensland.
With Queensland’s own corruption watchdog, the CMC, at a low point in public opinion, a judicial inquiry into both major parties would seem appropriate.
(April 09, 2014) Ch 3: DP Jeff Seeney backs Newman
Queensland Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney has given his strong support to Campbell Newman over the ‘cash for Campbell’ saga, stating he has no case to answer.
“The Premier has made it very clear that the money that was paid was paid to somebody else, it was paid without his knowledge and he disagreed with it, I disagreed with it and it wouldn’t have happened if Campbell Newman had have known about it,” Seeney told the The Courier Mail.
With Newman on an overseas trade mission, Seeney ruled out a judicial inquiry. In 1987, with Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen out of the state it was Deputy Premier Bill Gunn who commissioned an inquiry which was later headed up by Tony Fitzgerald QC.
PUP’s Clive Palmer has also been vocal over social media calling for Newman to resign.
Seeney responded with, “Clive Palmer was the man who tried to buy our government. He tried to buy the Galilee Basin from our government and it’s because we refused to be influenced by his money that Clive Palmer has gone and started his own political party.”
Based on a Newspoll out today, Newman is on track to lose his seat of Ashgrove at the next election. Seeney is most likely to take over as Premier.
— Clive Palmer (@CliveFPalmer) April 7, 2014
(April 21, 2014) Ch4: Campbell Newman’s Director-General Jon Grayson drawn further into ICAC
Fifteen days after Campbell Newman was first named in ICAC, he had still not faced the Qld media to answer any direct questions. Every answer to inquiries had come via written statements or spokespeople. He’d offered up nothing on who had been responsible for allowing the $5,000 to be paid into his re-election fund or offered any further explanation.
To be fair, his alibis were pretty solid; a Korea/China trade mission, Cyclone Ita, a royal visit to Brisbane and Easter.
However, as the holiday rolled over, Newman’s D-G Jon Grayson once again appeared in the spotlight.
As NSW began to recover from the shock resignation of Premier Barry O’Farrell, revelations emerged that his nemesis, Nick Di Girolamo, had met with Jon Grayson in 2012.
Grayson was involved in a company called Gasfields Water Management (GWM) with business partner Wayne Myers. Myers was on the board of Qld owned Ergon Energy Corporation and chairman of Stadiums Queensland. He was also in charge of the Qld branch of AWH headed by Di Girolamo.
AWH also had shares in GWM. Grayson and Myers later dissolved GWM and re-emerged as a new company called Gasfield Water and Waste Services (GWWS). One of the six shareholders of GWWS was Eddie Obeid Jr who held the portfolio until August 2013 when he transferred to his cousin Dennis Jabour.
At stake for AWH in Qld was an Ipswich contract for a four thousand home development in the Ripley Valley which it eventually won with Sekisui House. Grayson had met with Myers to discuss the deal three months before being appointed as Newman’s D-G.
Like Newman, Grayson was also avoiding the media. A spokesperson told The Courier Mail, “No matters were discussed that presented any conflict of interest for Mr Grayson.”
Allegations had also been lodged with ICAC that AWH had secretly billed the NSW taxpayer owned Sydney Water for expenses it incurred in Queensland.
Documents to ICAC also showed AWH had confidence enough in Grayson to bankroll his GWM company.
“The CEO explained that as AWH would be the company’s main financier, it was appropriate we take a controlling interest (75 per cent) in the company,’’ a meeting minute explained.
A total $500,000 had been made in Qld and a $5 million contract had been negotiated before the ICAC corruption hearings emerged and the subsidiaries of AWH in Qld were shut down.
Once Grayson had agreed to sign on as Newman’s D-G in 2012, he stepped down as GWM director but retained his shares. A day later he met with Di Girolamo. Less than a month later after the meeting, Di Girolamo had taken his place as director.
A spokesperson for Grayson told The Courier Mail that the meeting was, “for the purpose of removing himself from any active involvement in the gasfields water project and future arrangements for managing his shareholding consistent with arrangements agreed with the Integrity Commissioner.”
(April 23, 2014) Ch5: AWH targeted Qld water customers and Ipswich ratepayers
Ipswich Mayor, Paul Pisasale answered questions from The Courier Mail today over his contact with AWH boss Nick Di Girolamo and the lobbying for business in the Ripley Valley.
“Just absolutely crazy,” Pisasale said of suggestions Di Girolamo used a 2011 Ipswich flood fundraiser to garner support for AWH’s involvement in the development.
Di Girolamo was representing the Italian Chamber of Commerce at the fundraiser, not AWH.
“These people give to churches but they don’t expect divine intervention,” Pisasale said.
Documents lodged with ICAC showed AWH proposed a levy on Ipswich council and Queensland Urban Utilities. They also showed a plan for the Ripley Valley was developed between the management.
“Concession payments (would) be funded via new and existing Ipswich City Council rate base and Queensland Urban Utilities levy,” one document read.
At the ICAC hearing, counsel assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson put it to an AWH consultant that once donations for the 2011 Ipswich flood victims were committed to, “the Ipswich mayor you’re immediately getting a political dimension to it aren’t you?”
The consultant rejected the assertion.
(April 25, 2014) Ch6: How Wayne Myers, associate of Campbell Newman’s D-G Jon Grayson, was employed at AWQ
Campbell Newman’s D-G Jon Grayson and Wayne Myers had been in business together at GWWS and the now defunct GWM. Myers was a lobbyist and also on the board of Queensland Government owned Ergon Energy Corporation and Chairman of the Queensland Government Authority, Stadiums Queensland.
In 2009, the Bligh Government had introduced legislation making it illegal to be a lobbyist and on the board of government owned entities.
AWH board minutes tabled in ICAC showed, “We cannot continue to use him as a consultant due to new legislation in Queensland that prohibits government board members to act as lobbyists (Wayne sits on the Queensland owned Ergon Energy Corporation Board and is Chairman of Stadiums Queensland, a Queensland Government Authority).”
“The CEO asked for a motion to be passed for a subsidiary company in Queensland which Wayne Myers would be appointed to that board.”
As Myers was lobbying for AWH, creating the Queensland arm AWQ and appointing Myers would still allow them to interact with him in Queensland.
Myers told The Courier Mail that this was not about creating a lobbying loophole.
“Queensland companies prefer to deal with Queensland companies,” he explained.
(April 25, 2014) Ch7: The big deal: AWH chief Nick Di Girolamo boasted to investors after meeting with Jon Grayson
Campbell Newman and Jon Grayson refused to answer direct questions from The Australian today over connections to AWH boss Nick Di Girolamo. Instead a spokesperson told the paper, “Neither the Premier nor Mr Grayson are available today, so I can’t help you with these.”
In 2012, Di Girolamo told investors of the deal he’d made for the Ripley Valley in Ipswich to the west of Brisbane. It followed a March 30, 2012, meeting with Jon Grayson, just two months prior. Grayson stood to gain from the deal through his shareholdings in GWWS.
However, last month, a spokesman told the media that the meeting was only for Grayson to inform Di Girolamo of his exit from GWWS as a director as he had accepted the role of Director-General of Premier’s Department.
Given Di Girolamo revelations, it appears there was a lot more discussed at the meeting.