Nathan Tinkler has told NSW’s donation rort inquiry he gives to political parties because he’s “such a great guy”, not because he thinks his largesse will buy favours.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is probing more than $400,000 in payments to alleged NSW Liberal slush fund EightByFive, including $66,000 by the former mining mogul’s racehorse business, Patinack Farm.
Counsel assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson SC alleges the money was funnelled through Patinack from another Tinkler business, development firm Buildev, and that Mr Tinkler was trying to win support for a lucrative coal loader on the Newcastle foreshore.
Mr Tinkler told the ICAC on Friday he “didn’t know about Eighty By Five” until the company hit the headlines, courtesy of the inquiry that has now toppled four Liberal MPs and two NSW ministers.
Nor did he accept suggestions he arranged for two employees and their partners to donate $5000 apiece to the Nationals to sidestep laws that cap individuals’ electoral donations.
But he has admitted to a $45,000 personal donation to the Nationals and handing over $50,000 to a Newcastle group manoeuvring to oust then-ALP MP Jodi McKay at the 2011 NSW election.
Mr Tinkler also signed off on $53,000 in payments to another alleged Liberal front group, the Canberra-based Free Enterprise Foundation.
“You share it around,” he said.
Mr Watson didn’t buy it, asking: “Why would you give that away if you weren’t getting something in return for it?”
“Because I’m such a great guy,” the witness quipped.
“I’ve never had a political favour in my life.”
He also said he was “quite annoyed” when he learned the financially troubled Patinack had been spending thousands each month on an EightByFive retainer, ostensibly for marketing services and political advice.
But Mr Watson said it was a crooked deal designed to subvert NSW electoral funding laws, which ban developers making political donations, and signed off by Mr Tinkler himself.
“You knew, Mr Tinkler, didn’t you, that Buildev was paying money into a campaign associated with Liberal Party politicians and funding it under a subterfuge,” he said.
“No I didn’t,” Mr Tinkler replied.
Emails obtained by ICAC show Buildev executive Darren Williams was seeking advice in 2010 on “which entity” to give Mike Gallacher – the former NSW police minister allegedly in on the scam – and was told by his colleague David Sharpe Mr Tinkler should have the final say.
Phone records show Mr Williams rang Mr Tinkler four minutes later.
Asked on Friday what they might have discussed, Mr Tinkler joked: “Probably footy scores.”
During two hotly anticipated hours in the witness box, Mr Tinkler was both feisty and playful – though at lunchtime was heard to remark: “This is some of the most boring s*** I’ve ever seen.”
However, he was emphatic when questioned over claims he offered former Newcastle MP Ms McKay a bribe to win her support for the coal loader – and that when she turned him down, he funded a leaflet campaign to “destroy” her.
“Definitely not,” he said.
“I never took this to her, I never asked for her support.”