SLOGANEERING: Chris Holstein, Darren Webber, Premier Barry O’Farrell, Alan Hayes, Chris Spence and Chris Hartcher make a statement.
IT was Nathan Rees as premier who pledged to ‘‘end the soap opera’’ but it was Barry O’Farrell voters expected would actually get the job done.
Cleaning up the mess from years of Labor scandal and corruption and restoring the electorate’s trust in government was the foundation of the Coalition’s pitch at the 2011 state election on which everything else was built.
But a year out from the next election, in March 2015, that trust has been breached spectacularly, perhaps irrevocably so.
On February 18, the state’s corruption watchdog confirmed two major investigations – one targeting three Central Coast Liberal MPs, Darren Webber (Wyong), Chris Spence (The Entrance) and Chris Hartcher (Terrigal), who after an Independent Commission Against Corruption raid on his electorate office in December was forced to quit as resources minister.
It was the same position held by Ian Macdonald in the former Labor government when he corruptly awarded mining licences to companies involving former MP Eddie Obeid and (separately) Doyles Creek Mining, of which his friend and former union official John Maitland was a director.
This time, ICAC will examine allegations that ‘‘members of parliament corruptly solicited, received and concealed payments from various sources in return for favouring the interests of those responsible for the payments’’.
The allegations include that as chief executive of a water infrastructure firm, Australian Water Holdings, Liberal figure Nick Di Girolamo agreed the company would make ‘‘regular payments’’ to another called Eightbyfive. Eightbyfive was owned by Tim Koelma, who became Mr Hartcher’s senior policy adviser.
ICAC said the payments were ‘‘purportedly for the provision of media, public relations and other services and advice, in return for which Mr Hartcher favoured the interests of AWH’’.
The three MPs have suspended their Liberal Party membership.
But if that wasn’t bad enough, the Premier, under opposition questioning this week, admitted he ‘‘dropped in’’ to a meeting attended by Mr Di Girolamo and former resources minister Mr Hartcher about the Wallarah 2 mine proposed near Wyong.
The meeting, on February 28, 2012, may have occurred before Mr Di Girolamo was placed on the lobbyist register as representing mine proponent, Korean government-owned company Kores.
Mr O’Farrell said he ‘‘dropped in to say hello’’ to Kores president Kim Shin-jong, also in attendance, and ‘‘to apologise for the fact that I hadn’t previously been able to see him’’.
Even ignoring the damaging corruption inquiry, the statement is a huge blow to the Coalition’s credibility and faith with voters.
Wallarah 2 is the mine Mr O’Farrell himself said the government would not allow.
‘‘The next Liberal-National government will ensure that mining can’t occur here,’’ Mr O’Farrell told a Central Coast rally before the election.
Water catchments would be protected ‘‘no ifs, no buts, a guarantee’’, he said.
Mr O’Farrell and his Central Coast candidates posed for a photo in T-shirts with the slogan ‘‘water not coal’’.
Mr Hartcher, as opposition resources spokesman, wrote to residents that the Coalition would use special legislation to protect the catchment if it had to.
The mine was refused by the former Labor government just before the election. A new application was lodged under the Coalition.
The Department of Planning has recommended that it be approved.
Mr O’Farrell said repeatedly the assessment of the mine was being done independently by the Planning Assessment Commission, without the kind of interference or politicking that occurred under Labor.
Which begs the question, if the process is entirely independent, why do coal companies seek meetings about specific projects and why do ministers agree to attend?
And why promise in opposition to block a mine?
‘‘T-shirts shouldn’t lie’’ read a placard I saw at a coal protest in Sydney last year.
Nor should the pollies who wear them.
By SEAN NICHOLLS
VOTERS have turned on the O’Farrell government and are threatening to throw it out of office after just one term in a dramatic resetting of the political contest in NSW.
Three years after Barry O’Farrell was swept to power after a historic rejection of the long-serving Labor government, the latest Fairfax-Nielsen poll shows Labor is leading the Coalition 51per cent to 49per cent on a two-party preferred basis. The turnaround represents a 15per cent swing since the March 2011 election and is the first time Labor has led the Coalition since 2008.
Labor’s primary vote – which crashed to a historic low of 25.6per cent in 2011, has recovered to 35per cent – an improvement of 12points since the last Nielsen poll in March 2013.
The Coalition’s primary vote has fallen to 40per cent from 51.2per cent at the last election – down 12points since last year’s poll.
If the 15per cent swing was applied uniformly across the state, it would see the Coalition lose up to 25 seats – wiping out gains it made in western Sydney, the central coast and the Hunter three years ago.
The poll has bad news for Mr O’Farrell, revealing an 8-point slide in his personal approval rating since the Nielsen poll in March last year.