Showing posts with label NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Show all posts
Showing posts with label NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Show all posts

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Once again the NSW Premier and her Liberal-Nationals Coalition Government are the subject of corruption allegations

 

On 3 July 2020 a NSW Legislative Council committeee, the Public Accountability Committee (PAC), began an Inquiry into the Integrity, efficacy and value for money of NSW Government grant programs.


Thus far public hearings have been held on 21 September, 16 October and 23 October 2020 with further hearing dates scheduled for 27 November and 9 December 2020.


Six of the seven local government councils in the NSW Northern Rivers region – Tweed Shire, Richmond Valley, Ballina, Kyogle, Lismore and Clarence Valley - made submissions to the Inquiry outlining both satisfaction and frustration with the current grants system. These submission can be found here.


The Inquiry’s public hearings to date have generated media interest given these followed on the heels of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) Operation Keppel public hearings which revealed the six year intimate relationship between NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Daryl Maquire both when he was a member of her government and after his forced resignation from state parliament in 2018.


The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 October 2020:


Senior advisers from Gladys Berejiklian's office have been called before a parliamentary inquiry to explain why the NSW Premier handed out $250 million in council grants without any signed paperwork.


The grants scheme is emerging as a major issue for Ms Berejiklian on the back of her appearance before the corruption watchdog, which is investigating her ex-lover Daryl Maguire.


Ms Berejiklian will know the direction of findings from the Independent Commission Against Corruption on December 7, when submissions from counsel assisting are sent to "relevant parties".


In an unusual move, Ms Berejiklian's former chief of staff Sarah Cruickshank and present senior policy officer Sarah Lau will give evidence to the public accountability committee on Friday.


Ms Cruickshank also gave evidence at the ICAC hearing into Mr Maguire, which is investigating whether he used his position as an MP for financial gain, including brokering property deals.


Finance Minister Damien Tudehope has confirmed that no signed approvals exist for 249 grants rubber-stamped between June 27, 2018 and March 1, 2019 from the Stronger Communities Fund, established after council amalgamations.


Ms Lau was the author of emails such as one sent on June 28, 2018 which said: "The Premier has signed off further funding for metro councils. Outlined below is what is been approved."


Ms Berejiklian directly approved more than $100 million in grants, but the only records of her approvals are in the form of emails from advisers.


Staff in Deputy Premier John Barilaro's office also emailed approvals, including one dated August 24, 2018 which said: "The DP has approved funding of $600,000 to Edward River Council."


But Mr Barilaro, who returned from four weeks' mental health leave on Wednesday, distanced himself from the fund, and said "everything was correct" in a similar fund for regional councils.


"The Stronger Communities fund is not a fund that I administer. The Stronger Country Communities fund is something that I administer under my department in regional NSW," Mr Barilaro said.


"There's an allocation made to every single local government area so it's not the beauty contest that we normally get, everybody gets a slice of the fund."…...


The government was dealt a humiliating blow late on Tuesday when its most senior minister of the upper house was suspended from Parliament in a rare move last used more than 20 years ago.


Leader of the government Don Harwin was removed from the chamber by the Usher of the Black Rod over a failure to produce documents showing signed paperwork relating to the grants.


Labor's leader in the upper house Adam Searle told Parliament the government's failure to produce signed approvals could amount to "maladministration, corruption or illegality"…...



The grants, which Labor's MP John Graham told the house were worth "two-and-a-half times the federal sports rorts" scandal, were distributed almost exclusively to councils in Coalition-held seats…...


The head of ICAC Peter Hall QC has said the methods used by the government in its administration of the council grants fund could open the door for corrupt conduct.


The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 October 2020:


An inquiry wants answers as to whether Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a conflict of interest in her position on a committee that signed off on $30 million for a Wagga Wagga conservatorium following lobbying by former MP Daryl Maguire.


The NSW upper house inquiry into allegations of grant rorting on Friday heard the the Regional Cultural Fund awarded $10 million and $20 million to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music, for the construction of a new recital hall, in 2017 and 2018.


Chris Hanger from the Department of Regional NSW said the latter portion was a pre-byelection commitment from the government following the exit of Wagga MP Mr Maguire, who resigned in disgrace after a corruption inquiry heard he sought commissions from a developer.


After Mr Hanger testified that the funding was signed off by the Expenditure Review Committee, of which Ms Berejiklian is a part, Greens MLC David Shoebridge asked, "are you aware whether or not a conflict of interest was ever placed on the record by the Premier, given she was in a close personal relationship with Mr Maguire?…..


Jonathan Wheaton, executive director of regional programs at the department, told the parliamentary inquiry that, given the ERC was a subcommittee of the cabinet, he was unsure whether that level of information could be shared publicly.


The Sydney Morning Herald has sought comment from the Premier's office about whether or not she was obliged to declare a conflict of interest, and whether or not she had…..


The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 October 2020:


Gladys Berejiklian gave her lover Daryl Maguire's Wagga Wagga electorate six grants totalling $40,000 from her discretionary fund, while an inquiry heard one of her advisers shredded documents showing the Premier's approval of projects under another scheme.


In a parliamentary speech made before resigning from the Liberal Party in disgrace in 2018, Mr Maguire thanked Ms Berejiklian for providing $5134 from the special fund to the Ladysmith Tourist Railway, near the regional city, to cover the cost of replacing railway sleepers stolen by "scoundrels".


"It was a cowardly act to steal the sleepers, but I thank the Premier for helping to replace them," Mr Maguire said in June, also announcing the receipt of $5000 for the erection of a memorial to World War I Victoria Cross recipient Jack Ryan in Tumut. That money had also come from the fund.


Other grants included $10,400 for the Wagga branch of the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia for a firearm cleaning safety enclosure, which Mr Maguire announced to local media in October 2017, and $5000 towards the Talbingo Men's Shed……


ABC News, 23 October 2020:


Documents which Premier Gladys Berejiklian used to approve millions of dollars in grants to local councils were later shredded, a NSW parliamentary inquiry has heard. 


One of the Premier's senior policy advisers, Sarah Lau, told the inquiry she also deleted electronic copies of the notes.....


Nearly all the grants were awarded to local councils in Coalition-held seats.


The inquiry heard that $141.8 million of the grant funding was allocated by the Premier, with $61.3million allocated by the Deputy Premier John Barilaro and $48.9 million by the Minister for Local Government.


In addition to the ICAC and PAC inquiries, the NSW Auditor General has announced an intention to review a selections of grant programs and, the Commonwealth Fraud Prevention Centre has also announced a new project regarding grant programs, highlighting the need to better understand key fraud risks and learn about effective fraud prevention methods particularly given there are elevated integrity risks for government grants in times of crisis or emergency.


Wednesday, 21 October 2020

An audit of the funding arrangements for the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has found they threaten its "independent status"

 

ABC News, 20 October 2020:


An audit of the funding arrangements for the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has found they threaten its "independent status" because the Premier can "restrict access" to the money it receives.


NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian ordered a review into funding models of the ICAC along with other key agencies including the Electoral Commission, the Ombudsman and the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission.


The Auditor-General Margaret Crawford has handed down her findings, a week after Ms Berejiklian gave evidence to the ICAC which is investigating her former boyfriend and MP Daryl Maguire.


"The current approach to determining annual funding for the integrity agencies presents threats to their independent status," the report concluded.


"The report argues these risks are not mitigated sufficiently under the current financial arrangements."


The Auditor-General also found that the funding was not "transparent" and "there are no mechanisms for the agencies to question or challenge decisions made".


The ICAC, along with the other agencies, receives its revenue through the annual budget process.


But the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) and the NSW Treasury have restricted its funding through "efficiency dividends" and budget-saving measures.


The report says the DPC and NSW Treasury have interpreted legislation so that the full funding approved by Parliament doesn't have to be provided.


"This interpretation leads to the view that a Premier can restrict access to appropriation funding that was approved by Parliament," the Auditor-General found.


The agencies can ask the DPC for additional money to conduct its investigations and the ICAC has made requests on several occasions, mostly to cover large scale public hearings.


The Auditor-General has raised concerns with this model, noting that it’s "the only mechanism available" and "it could be seeking additional funding to investigate a senior government official".


The report found there were no criteria or guidelines for seeking extra funding, so "very little transparency".


"The process available to ICAC to request additional funding outside the annual budget creates further risks to its independence," the Auditor-General said.


"Some of these proposals were rejected without reasons being provided."....


Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Twice in two years Premier Gladys Berejiklian's romantic partner was being investigated by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption and she didn't disclose the relationship - until her name appeared on a witness list


Daryl Maguire and Gladys Berejiklian
IMAGE: The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 October 2020

NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), notice, excerpt, 1 September 2020:


Operation Keppel public notice

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) will hold a public inquiry as part of an investigation it is conducting into allegations the former NSW Member of Parliament for Wagga Wagga, Mr Daryl Maguire.

The Commission is investigating allegations that, from 2012 to August 2018, Mr Maguire engaged in conduct that involved a breach of public trust by using his public office, involving his duties as a member of the NSW Parliament and the use of parliamentary resources, to improperly gain a benefit for himself and/or entities close to him. These entities included G8wayinternational/G8wayinternational Pty Ltd and associated persons…….


In Week 4 of the subsequent Operation Keppel public hearings commencing 12 October 2020, NSW Premier & MLA for Wagga Wagga Gladys Berejiklian gave evidence before this ICAC inquiry, starting at 9:40am and ending for the day at 2:58pm.

In evidence Premier Berejiklian revealed she was in a personal relationship with Mr Maguire from as early as July 2014 until sometime after 16 August 2020.

For 19 months of those five years Daryl Maguire was a Liberal Party MLA in her own government, only resigning from the NSW Parliament on 3 August 2018 in the wake of another ICAC investigation, Operation Dasha, during which in evidence he made certain admissions concerning commissions on property development.

In the course of investigations into Mr. Maguire’s conduct a number of telephone call and email transcripts of communications between Maguire and Ms. Berejiklian were revealed that do not show the NSW Premier in the best light.

Calls for her resignation are beginning to appear on social media and both NSW Labor and the Greens have described her position as untenable.

At this point in time the Premier refuses to resign.


BACKGROUND

Operation Keppel Public Hearing Transcript, Monday 12 October 2020, Part 1 at https://www.icac.nsw.gov.au/ArticleDocuments/962/12-10-2020%20Operation%20Keppel%20transcript%20pp.%2001348-01437%20from%2009.30pm%20to%201.11pm.pdf.aspx

Operation Keppel Public Hearing Transcript, Monday 12 October 2020, Part 2 at https://www.icac.nsw.gov.au/ArticleDocuments/962/12-10-2020%20Operation%20Keppel%20transcript%20pp.%2001438-01471%20from%201.45pm%20to%203.00pm.pdf.aspx


UPDATE

Crickey, The Worm, extract, 15 October 2020:

In the latest updates out of ICAC, the ABC reports that disgraced former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire organised a 2016 meeting with then-treasurer and secret partner Gladys Berejiklian over a major local transport project that, although “vehemently” opposed by the roads minister at the time, went on to receive tens of millions in state and federal funds.

Additionally, The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Maguire has admitted to using his position to make money; for example, “having a glass of red” was code for an off-the-record meeting with a property developer and the former chief of staff to the then-planning minister, and he admitted to accepting thousands of dollars in cash on multiple occasions at Parliament House as part of a visa scam. 

The paper also reports that the former staff member of Maguire’s who told the inquiry she was instructed to delete material from his electorate and parliamentary offices, Sarah Vasey, is now working for Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. 

Berejiklian yesterday survived two no-confidence motions against her, and, according to the ABC, maintains she had no knowledge of Maguire’s wrongdoing.


Friday, 25 October 2019

A few facts about the NSW Minerals Council and how it operates as an industry lobbyist in 2019


Stephen John Galilee is currently Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the NSW Minerals Council, a private sector lobby group for the mining industry with less than 100 members – not all of which are directly engaged in mining activities.

The council conducts public and policy advocacy on behalf of the mining sector, with a staff of 15 full-time equivalent employees – 6 of whom are primarily engaged in work on policy and 5 or 6 engaged in public advocacy, communications & media activity.

Stephen Galilee’s previous employment was as chief of staff to then Liberal MP for Manly Mike Baird when he was Treasurer in the O’Farrell Coalition Government and, before that he was employed as chief of staff to Liberal MP for Groom Ian Mcfarlane when he was Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources.

On 21 October Galilee gave evidence under oath before a NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into lobbying practises in this state.

During his evidence Galilee confirmed that the NSW Minerals Council:
  • income is derived from annual membership fees which are set at a percentage or proportion of the value of members commodity production;
  • annual revenue is between est. $4 million to $8 million;
  • is an associate member of the Minerals Council of Australia;
  • meets with government officials “on a regular basis” and such meeting are sometimes with government ministers;
  • probably has face-to-face meetings with between four or five individual ministers at some point during the year which include council policy directors and/or the CEO;
  • has a “regular engagement with the Deputy Premier in his capacity as Minister for Resources”;
  • requests to see ministers are generally submitted by letter to their chiefs of staff (with reasons given), then followed up with a ‘phone call;
  • shadow ministers are also lobbied on occasion;
  • CEO has met with between 8 and 10 NSW Government ministers over the last 2 to 3 years and with 10 to 15 ministerial chiefs of staff. These often involve follow up meetings with ministers' offices, departments or specific policy personnel;
  • meets with the Resources Regulator and Environmental Protection Authority “every couple of months” and with the Dept of Planning’s Division of Resources and Geoscience “every two or three months”;
  • in the past four years has made “around 150 public submissions in response to government proposals for changes to legislation, policy or regulations”;
  • at the moment is regularly engaging with the Department of Planning concerning planning system issues, in particular provisions in the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act;
  • does not use the official form required since 2017 to request meetings with the Dept. of Planning;
  • has meetings with the Dept. of Planning which are not minuted;
  • CEO does not keep records of meeting he attends - often his record comprises only diary entry of meeting date and "three dot points on a piece of paper" to aid memory;
  • current focus in relation to policy advocacy regarding planning system issues is to reduce financial risk for mining/commodity investors which has been spurred on by United Wambo determination, Bylong Project decision and actions of the Independent Planning Commission;
  • is currently "running a public campaign against the Planning Minister and his planning system".
  • states that the government departments “take a lot of industry money to deliver services for us. So we like to make sure those services are being delivered...”; and
  • holds "a lot of functions and events for the industry and we invite local MPs, for example, to attend and ministers and shadow ministers from time to time come along to our functions and events".
[https://www.icac.nsw.gov.au/investigations/current-investigations/2019/lobbying-and-the-nsw-public-sector-operation-eclipse/the-regulation-of-lobbying-access-and-influence-in-nsw-a-chance-to-have-your-say-april-2019]


The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment apparently considers the NSW Minerals Council an organisation containing 'inhouse' lobbyists not a third party lobbyist and therefore doesn't record contact with this group in its Lobbyist Contact Register to date.

Based on the evidence given  on 21 October, it is possible that there may have been times when no other person has been present at a meeting between a NSW Minister and the NSW Minerals Council.

It is also clear from the evidence that the NSW Minerals Council would be unhappy with any new legislation or regulations requiring a greater degree of transparency with regard to its lobbying activities.

At the same time the NSW Minerals Council does not appear to always trust that public officials and public authorities make decisions on cogent evidence in a balanced, detached, informative way - blaming public interest advocacy and "noisy objectors" for what it perceives as skewing outcomes.

As it now stands the NSW Minerals Council as a lobbyist group seems to be minimally regulated with regard to its activities.

BACKGROUND

NSW Minerals Council membership on its official website as of 23 October 2019:
Full Members
Anchor Resources Limited
Australian Pacific Coal Limited
BHP

Bengalla Mining Company Pty Ltd
The Bloomfield Group

Centennial Coal Company Ltd
Chase Mining Limited.
Cobalt Blue Holdings Ltd
China Molybdenum Co
Clean Teq
Evolution Mining
Fortescue Metals Group Ltd
Glencore Coal (NSW) Pty Limited

Gloucester Resources Ltd
Great Southern Energy Pty Ltd T/A Delta Coal
Heron Resources Limited
Hillgrove Mines Pty Ltd
Idemitsu Australia Resources Pty Ltd
Iluka Resources Pty Ltd
Kepco Bylong Australia Pty Ltd
Mach Energy Australia Pty Ltd

Newcrest Mining - Cadia Valley Operations
New South Resources Pty Ltd
Omya Australia Pty Ltd
Peabody Energy Australia
Regis Resources Limited
South 32 Illawarra Coal Holdings
Shenhua Watermark Coal Pty Limited
Shoalhaven Coal Pty Ltd
Silver Mines Ltd
Thiess Pty Ltd
Whitehaven Coal Limited
Wollongong Coal Limited
Wyong Areas Coal Joint Venture
Yancoal Australia Limited

Associate Members

Ampcontrol Pty Ltd
ARTC - Australian Rail Track Corporation
Ashurst
Aurizon Holdings LTD

B Marheine Holdings Ltd
Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation
Civeo Pty Ltd
Coal Services Pty Ltd
ElectraNet
Emeco International Pty Ltd
EMM Consulting
EMS Group Pty Ltd
Genesee & Wyoming Australia Pty Ltd

Gold and Copper Resources Pty Limited
Golden Cross Resources Ltd
Helix Resources Ltd
Herbert Smith Freehills
Hunter Business Chamber 
Hughes Mining Services
Hansen Bailey Pty Ltd
Jervois Mining Limited
Sydney Mining Club
Jennmar Australia
Johnson Winter Slattery

Geos Mining
McCullough Robertson
Mitsubishi Development Pty Ltd
MRS Services Group Pty Ltd
NuCoal Resources Ltd
NSW Aboriginal Land Council
Niche Environment & Heritage
Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group
Orica Australia Pty Ltd
Pacific National Pty Ltd
Paradigm Resources Pty Ltd
Peel Mining Ltd 
PricewaterhouseCoopers
Port Waratah Coal Services Limited
Hetherington Exploration and Mining Title Services Pty Ltd

Hughes Mining Services
Rangott Mineral Exploration Pty Ltd

Quarry Mining & Construction Equipment P/L
Rimfire Pacific Mining NL
Resource Strategies Pty Ltd
RW Corkery and Company

Sapphire Resources
Seyfarth Shaw Australia
Silver City Minerals Limited
Sparke Helmore Lawyers
UNSW Mining Engineering
TAFE NSW
Thomson Resources Ltd
Umwelt (Australia) Pty Limited
University of Wollongong
XCoal Energy and Resources

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption investigating regulation of lobbying, access and influence in state government circles


In New South Wales state governments have attempted to regulate political and commercial lobbying of members of parliament and public servants under provisions contained in Lobbying of Government Officials Act 2011 , Lobbying of Government Officials (Lobbyists Code of Conduct) Regulation 2014, Lobbying of Government Officials (Lobbyists Code of Conduct) Amendment Regulation 2019, Premier’s Memorandum M2015-13 ‘NSW Lobbyists Code of Conduct’, Premier’s Memorandum M2015-05 ‘Publication of Ministerial Diaries and Release of Overseas Travel Information’

To date this approach has obviously been working so well that on 5 August 2019 the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) began public hearings into the regulation of lobbying, access and influence in NSW (Operation Eclipse). 

Three hearing days occurred in August and the next public hearing date is not scheduled until 21 October 2019.

 According to ICAC; “Like the Commission’s previous examination of lobbying practices in 2010 (Operation Halifax), this investigation is not concerned with examining whether any particular individual may have engaged in corrupt conduct, but rather seeks to examine particular aspects of lobbying activities and the corruption risks involved in the lobbying of public authorities and officials.” 

Interestingly on 30 August 2019 The Australian gave this explanation of the possible genesis of Operation Eclipse

The NSW corruption commission will examine the “revolving door” where politicians and public servants leave their careers to move into jobs with private sector lobbyists, warning that the trend has whittled away public trust. 

Heidrun Blackwood, a senior corruption prevention officer for the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, said the crisis of public trust in government risked cascading towards “doomsday” levels in the near future. 

She said the integrity body would soon investigate the access granted to special interest groups by MPs and public servants. 

Ms Blackwood flagged the investigation after Christopher Pyne — a former federal defence minister — took up a defence consulting job with EY, and former federal foreign minister Julie Bishop landed a gig as a board director with development contractor Palladium. 

Both have denied wrongdoing and have been cleared by outgoing public service boss Martin Parkinson, who is appearing before a parliamentary committee today to take questions on the matter….. 

According to the Grattan Institute, since 1990 more than one-quarter of all federal ministers or assistant ministers have taken up roles in lobbying outfits or special interest groups since leaving parliament. 

“The revolving door is an issue that we are going to look at,” Ms Blackwood said. “It is true that, on the one hand, it is part of democracy to have that conversation. 

“On the other hand, there is also the impression that some people are getting more access than others. That has prompted our commissioner to look at that issue more closely.”

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC): the case of the $100,000 cash political donation


Sometime after 2 November 2015 the NSW Electoral Commission appears to have noticed that on 12 March 2015, around two weeks before a NSW state election, an organisation known as Chinese Friends of Labor raised $138,000 from an event held in a 750-seat Chinese restaurant in Haymarket, Sydney. 

What piqued the Electoral Commission's interest was that $100,000 of this money appears to have been raised by Chinese Friends of Labor as cash from 12 donors - five of whom were employees or former employees of a second 350-seat Haymarket restaurant usually described as being serving staff, two who were related to that restaurant's general manager and two who were associated with property development company Wu International Investments Pty Ltd.

The NSW Electoral Commission began to wonder if some of the named donors were perhaps 'straw men' for one or more property developers.

Property developers are of course prohibited by law from making political donations in New South Wales. 

As members of the NSW Liberal Party will recall if they think back on the 2016 NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) Operation Spicer investigation into political funding which found the Free Enterprise Foundation and "Raymond Carter, Andrew Cornwell, Garry Edwards, the Hon Michael Gallacher MLC, Nabil Gazal Jnr, Nicholas Gazal, Hilton Grugeon, Christopher Hartcher, Timothy Koelma, Jeffrey McCloy, Timothy Owen, Christopher Spence, Hugh Thomson and Darren Williams acted with the intention of evading laws under the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act 1981 (the election funding laws) relating to the disclosure of political donations and the ban on donations from property developers. Messrs Grugeon, Hartcher, Koelma, McCloy, Owen, Thomson and Williams were also found to have acted with the intention of evading the election funding laws relating to caps on political donations. The Commission also found that Craig Baumann, Nicholas Di Girolamo, Troy Palmer and Darren Webber acted with the intention of evading the election funding laws relating to the disclosure of political donations and that Bart Bassett knowingly solicited a political donation from a property developer".

On 15 January 2018, after further investigation, the Electoral Commission referred the matter of Chinese Friends of Labor & Labor Party state campaign accounts to ICAC and on 26 August 2019 public hearings in Operation Aero began. 

Five witnesses are to be called this week: Kenrick Cheah (NSW Labor community relations director), Steve Tong (former employee Wu International Investments), Kaila Murnain (General Secretary of NSW Labor)Ernest Wong (former NSW Labor MLC) and Sam Dastyari (former Federal Labor senator).

It has been alleged that Chinese billionaire property developer Huang Xiangmo was the source of the $100,000 cash donation. 

Readers might remember that this particular billionaire was the subject of allegations that he paid a five-figure sum in order to have a private lunch with Minister for Home Affairs and Liberal MP for Dickson Peter Dutton during the period he was seeking Australian citizenship.

Political tragics can follow the hearings here.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Awabakel land dealings saga continues



Newcastle Herald, 7 April 2017:

Disgraced former assistant tax commissioner Nick Petroulias has failed in a bid to scuttle a corruption inquiry into his land dealings with the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council.

In March, Mr Petroulias applied for the ICAC inquiry to be abandoned, arguing it was based on "trivial" matters. He claimed he had been treated with "bias" and "denied procedural fairness" during public hearings, including "by reason of [his] mental health impairment".

Mr Petroulias also tendered interviews he had recorded with witnesses - including former Awabakal board members Richard Green and Debbie Dates - to support his case.

ICAC Commissioner Peter Hall QC threw out the application on Wednesday, finding Mr Petroulias had not substantiated his allegations.

"Mr Petroulias asserts that the real purpose behind the inquiry is to improperly cause damage to his reputation," Commissioner Hall noted. "There is no evidentiary basis for what is an entirely unsupported assertion."

The last fortnight of public hearings will begin on May 6.

The ICAC inquiry began over 12 months ago, and is probing four deals to sell off Awabakal land, in which Mr Petroulias is alleged to have played a "central role".

SPECIAL INVESTIGATION:


Note:

Nick Petroulias mentions on North Coast Voices.

Monday, 23 July 2018

One of the reasons why local government, traditional owners and communities in the Clarence Valley should be very wary of home-grown and foreign lobbyists, investment consortiums and land developers – Part Three


In July 2018 the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) continues to hear evidence in Operation Skyline.

An organisation called United Land Councils Limited was mentioned as allegedly sending its then sole director Richard Green around New South Wales to talk with local aboriginal land councils concerning certain proposals.

These trips appear to have commenced sometime in 2015.

At least one trip taken in 2016 by Mr. Green was to Yamba in the Clarence Valley, allegedly at the behest of Nicholas Petroulias.

The subject of the alleged discussion/s with the Yaegl community in Yamba was the creation of a large port in the Clarence River estuary.

It shoud be noted that by July 2016 Yaegl elders and the Yaegl Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation were strongly opposed to a mega port being created in the estuary.

Mainstream media has been following current events as they unfolded.....

The Daily Telegraph, 13 July 2018:

AUSTRALIA’S youngest ever tax chief is behind bars after ­allegedly being caught with a wallet full of counterfeit cash, bank cards in different names and dodgy driver’s licences.

Nick Petroulias, once the nation’s second most powerful tax official, appeared before Burwood Local Court as Michael Nicholas Felson earlier this week having been pulled over by police while driving his luxury black BMW X5.

When the officers stopped him in inner-west Sydney on June 20, the 50-year-old is alleged to have handed them a current New Zealand driver’s licence in the name of another alias, Nicholas James Piers.

Police will allege that inquiries revealed Piers was a permanent resident of Australia and allegedly had a number of aliases including Nick Petersen, Michael Felson as well as his real name — Nick Petroulias.

Under his various aliases he is alleged to have held one NSW driver’s licence, three Queensland licences, one from Victoria and another from Tasmania, only two of which were current. He has not been charged over those licences.

Once a Melbourne legal whiz-kid, Petroulias (pictured left) was made assistant commissioner of the Australian Taxation Office at the age of 30. In 2014 he was declared bankrupt with eye-watering estimated debts of $104 million.

On Tuesday he appeared in court via videolink from Silverwater Jail dressed in prison greens as he used his fingers to flatten the “comb-over” hiding his bald head.

Court documents show he has pleaded not guilty to knowingly possessing seven counterfeit Australian $50 bank notes and two counts of possessing bank cards with the intention of committing fraud. He was refused police bail on June 20 and refused bail in Burwood Local Court the next day.

His case has been adjourned to August 14 when the court was told he will make a fresh bail application.

Newcastle Herald, 17 July 2018:

A member of the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council has admitted to giving false evidence to the Independent Commission against Corruption and disobeying orders not to discuss its inquiry with other potential witnesses, after an intercepted phone call was played in which he told former tax official Nick Petroulias about an inquiry into land deals with which the pair were involved.

But Richard Green, former deputy chair of Awabakal, denied he was “tipping off” Mr Petroulias about the ICAC inquiry.

He was reprimanded by Commissioner Peter Hall QC for failing to answer questions directly.

“Mr Green if you're going to obstruct this commission you could be putting yourself into real trouble,” Commissioner Hall said.

On Monday, Mr Green was questioned about whether he spoke to anyone after receiving a summons from the ICAC in January, telling him he would be required to appear before its Operation Skyline public hearings and warning him not to discuss the matter with any other person.

When pressed by counsel assisting the commission, Nicholas Chen SC, Mr Green admitted he had a brief conversation with Mr Petroulias about the summons, but said it was because he had not read the warning contained within the letter.

However minutes later, a phone intercept was played where Mr Green was heard to read the contents of the letter to Mr Petroulias, including the direction to keep the summons confidential.

“That was contrary to the clear and express statement of what you were not permitted to do. Isn't that right?” Mr Chen said. “What's your excuse, Mr Green, for doing that?”

“Like I said before I don't – I haven't got an excuse,” Mr Green responded.

The inquiry heard that Mr Petroulias is in custody on unrelated charges. 

The former tax office high flyer is accused of playing a "central role" in four deals to sell off Awabakal land. The ICAC is investigating whether the deals were a sham to benefit Mr Petroulias, his lawyer partner Despina Bakis, and Awabakal board members Mr Green and Debbie Dates.

Mr Green conceded that his signature appeared on a number of the sales agreements. However he insisted he could not read well and had not read through documents when they were given to him to sign by either Mr Petroulias or Ms Bakis.
He could not explain why he signed the documents without telling other board members about them, despite board approval being a requirement of land sales. He agreed his behaviour was "reckless in the extreme" but denied he benefited financially from it.

"When you've got a person acting like Nick you take notice of them," he said. "And I keep saying over and over if people understand how Aboriginal land councils function they will understand what I'm talking about.''

Newcastle Herald, 19 July 2018:

Luxury cars, gold jewellery, and Foxtel subscriptions were among the items that Richard Green bought with money disgraced former assistant tax commissioner Nick Petroulias provided to him, allegedly for helping facilitate the sale of Aboriginal-owned land in the Lower Hunter.  

The Independent Commission Against Corruption heard on Wednesday that Mr Green, a former land council board member, is alleged to have received an estimated $145,000 between 2014 and 2016 for his personal benefit from Mr Petroulias. 

The money was received via several bank and credit card accounts that were operated in Mr Green’s name, but which appear to have been opened on behalf of him by Mr Petroulias. 

Mr Green appeared confused when presented with statements from some of the accounts and denied any prior knowledge of others. 

The commission is investigating whether a series of deals to sell Awabakal land to developers were a “ruse” to benefit former board members Richard Green or Debbie Dates.

It is also probing whether the first of the deals was a sham set up by Mr Petroulias – using a company he allegedly controlled called Gows Heat – so he could on-sell his interests to other buyers. 

BACKGROUND

25 September 2016 What's in a name?