A 10th NSW Liberal MP is now sitting on the cross bench after admitting he hid donations from developers, which were used to fund his election campaign.
Port Stephens MP Craig Baumann appeared before the Independent Commission Against Corruption during the final day of public hearings on Friday, and admitted he took secret donations from developers during the 2007 election. He then issued fake invoices to hide them, making false declarations on his electoral returns.
Developer donations were not illegal at the time, but Baumann claimed nearly $80,000 from developers Hilton Grugeon and Jeff McCloy came from his own company.
“I inadvertently made a dishonest declaration and I apologise,” he told the ICAC.
Baumann was on Port Stephens Council and supported a development by the pair in Maitland, but denied donations influenced his decisions.
“I don’t see how a recipient of a donation can be corrupted,” he said.
The ICAC also heard that the MP’s accountant, Vince Heufel, donated $100,000 owed to Baumann’s company for his 2011 election campaign in what appears to be a case of tax evasion.
But outside the ICAC, Baumann told the media he didn’t believe he needed to stand aside from the Liberal Party, but within hours NSW Premier Mike Baird said he had accepted the MPs decision to join the cross bench.
He is the 10th state Liberal MP forced to stand aside over developer donations. All up, 12 state and federal MPs have moved to the cross bench or resigned during the ICAC investigation into illegal donations from developers.
Federal senator Arthur Sinodinos also appeared before the ICAC today. He was chairman of the NSW Liberal Party’s finance committee in the lead up to the 2011 election.
During an occasionally testy exchange with counsel assisting Geoffrey Watson, SC, the senator said he did was not aware that property developers were donating to the campaign and that he did not accept responsibility for it occurring.
“I don’t accept any responsibility for money being raised by prohibited donors,” Sinodinos said.
A Canberra-based company called the Free Enterprise Foundation is under scrutiny for channelling funds from NSW in a bid to get around the 2010 ban on developer donations. The Foundation gave $700,000 to the campaign.
Watson asked whether senator Sinodinos not knowing who the party’s biggest donor was would pass “a pub test”.
After giving evidence, Sinodinos said he was looking forward to returning to Canberra as part of the government.
The report into the ICAC’s investigation is due in 2015.
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