FORMER Energy minister Chris Hartcher has told ICAC that former Police Minister Mike Gallacher “constantly” referred to former Premier Barry O’Farrell as “the big man” or “the big Kahuna”.
The identity of “the big man” has become an issue at ICAC, after the commission revealed a text message from the campaign manager for disgraced former Newcastle MP Tim Owen, Hugh Thomson, to Mr Gallacher which said: “how’s our big man going with the $120k”.
Mr Thomson gave evidence that he understood “the big man” was mining magnate Nathan Tinkler, implying Mr Gallacher was involved in an illegal donation as Mr Tinkler owns property development company Buildev.
But Mr Hartcher said Mr Gallacher had called Mr O’Farrell “the big man”, “constantly, for many years. Even after he became Premier.”
Mr Hartcher also claimed to have no knowledge of how cheques totalling $53,000 from Mr Tinkler’s property development company Buildev were sent from his electorate office to an entity called the Free Enterprise Foundation — and then illegally split between Mr Owen’s campaign and the campaign of Londonderry MP Bart Bassett.
“I was not aware of those cheques going through my office, and I’m not aware that they did go through my office,” Mr Hartcher said.
Mr Hartcher was shown phone records around the time the Buildev cheques were banked to both campaigns, where he sent both Mr Gallacher and Mr Bassett a text message separated by three seconds.
He said it “didn’t follow” that the two texts were related.
Asked about a phone call he made to Mr Bassett in December 2010, when the $18,000 cheque was drawn for the Londonderry campaign, Mr Hartcher said he was discussing Local Government issues “in relation to my inspection of illegal brothels”.
ICAC has heard an argument from Mr Gallacher’s barrister Arthur Moses SC, that the $120,000 referred to potential funding Mr O’Farrell could organise for the Hunter campaign from the Liberal party head office.
Earlier, former NSW Treasurer Eric Roozendaal admitted to ICAC that he stalled the approval of a container terminal in Newcastle on the advice of corrupt former minister Joe Tripodi, and that the decision could benefit Nathan Tinkler’s company Buildev.
Mr Roozendaal said that he directed the creation of an easement on the Mayfield port-side land which could “potentially” benefit Buildev — who would then be able to access the port for their $1 billion coal loader plan.
Counsel Assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson SC asked Mr Roozendaal if he issued a direction to create the easement.
“Yes,” Mr Roozendaal said.
“To whose benefit would that have been?” Mr Watson asked.
“The people of NSW,” Mr Roozendaal said.
After he was pressed, Mr Roozendaal conceded “it was potentially of benefit to Buildev.”
“It was the 4th of February ; we were going into caretaker mode on the 4th of March, this was a really complex proposal and my view was at that stage if I can grant an easement, that might help a coal loader in the future, that is fine,” Mr Roozendaal said.
“I really felt, if we could have a provision for an easement … then that … [if] the coal loader jumped through the hoops . . we’d at least have provision for easements.”
Mr Roozendaal denied that by granting the easement, it meant no coal loader proposal could go to public tender, because it was on Buildev land.
“That’s kind of blackmail isn’t it? they owned the Intertrade site,” Mr Watson suggested.
Mr Roozendaal said he took advice from Mr Tripodi on stalling the approval of the container terminal at Mayfield — which ICAC has heard would have killed Mr Tinkler’s coal loader plan.
ICAC has heard evidence that Mr Tripodi was working with Buildev on the coal loader proposal in his last months as a backbencher, with two witnesses suggesting he wanted a job post-politics with the company.
Mr Tripodi and Buildev worked on an anonymous pamphlet “Stop Jodi’s Trucks” used to damage the campaign of Mr Tripodi’s then colleague, former Labor Newcastle MP Jodi McKay.
Evidence tendered to ICAC shows Mr Tripodi called Mr Roozendaal on the same day Mr Tripodi was flown to Newcastle by Buildev to meet them to advise on the coal loader proposal.
“Joe was advocating for the Buildev proposal,” Mr Roozendaal.
“Joe often got involved in issues and would push them.”
“He urged you to stop the approval [of the container terminal] going to the [Newcastle Port Corporation] board?” Mr Watson asked.
“Yes,” Mr Roozendaal said.
Mr Roozendaal did not accept Mr Watson’s proposition that he knew “that by doing that a substantial benefit had been rendered to Buildev … I’m talking about big bucks. Millions.”
Mr Roozendaal denied leaking part of a treasury document to Mr Tripodi or Buildev, which was then used to damage Ms McKay, who supported the rival container terminal project.
“If you’d read the treasury report you would have recognised that the Buildev proposal was a dog?,” Mr Watson asked,.
“No.” Mr Roozendaal said.
“I have seen the evidence but I certainly did not give him [Mr Tripodi] a copy,” Mr Roozendaal said.
“I didn’t give copies to anyone.”
Mr Roozendaal said people who had access to the document included his advisers Sam Crosby and Michael Galderisi, his PA and the adviser he had put on the Buildev proposal, who is now Labor leader John Robertson’s suspended chief of staff, Ian McNamara.
He confirmed he knew Buildev and went to car events with the company’s executive Darren Williams and was invited by them to the State of Origin.
Mr Roozendaal also conceded Mr McNamara “may” have connections with Buildev.
Mr Crosby, who is now the head of the McKell Institute, gave evidence last week that Mr Roozendaal kept asking him to review Buildev’s “dog” of a proposal.
Mr Crosby told ICAC the project was “like Lazarus, this thing just kept climbing back up out of the ground.”
Mr McNamara was then brought in to work on the project by Mr Roozendaal.
Mr Roozendaal said Mr McNamara was a “highly respected” economist, and he did not trust Mr Crosby.
He said he “inherited” Mr Crosby as a “refugee” from former Ports minister Paul McLeay’s office, accused Mr Crosby of making “disparaging remarks” about Mr McLeay, and of being married to a “very senior member of the left faction” — Rose Jackson.
He said Ms Jackson was “someone I knew was personally opposed to me.”
He said he had learned Mr Crosby was the best man at then-general secretary Sam Dastyari’s wedding, and he believed Mr Dastyari was involved in trying to remove him as the lead upper house candidate.
He also claimed Mr Crosby was not “value adding” to the office, but didn’t sack him because he thought “we are only here ‘til March [the 2011 election] anyway.”
Mr Crosby tweeted: “It’s true. I confess. I married a left winger. Thank god Roozendaal never found out dad was too.”
Ms Jackson, the daughter of ABC journalist Liz Jackson, also tweeted: “We weren’t even married then! And not sure ‘he’s sleeping with the enemy’ has been a legitimate comeback since high school.”