ICAC: Hartcher in screaming match
Former Liberal energy minister Chris Hartcher and counsel assisting the commission, Geoffrey Watson, SC, trade verbal blows at the corruption inquiry into alleged illegal party donations.PT0M0S 620 349
For much of the day, members of the public could have sworn they'd stumbled into a bout of World Championship Wrestling rather than an inquiry into corruption.
The key combatants on the penultimate day of the Independent Commission Against Corruption's dramatic inquiry into Liberal slush funds were counsel assisting Geoffrey ''Hollywood'' Watson, SC, and former energy and resources minister Christopher ''I don't recall'' Hartcher.
The pair's continual verbal sparring and heated exchanges got up the nose of the ref, Commissioner Megan Latham, who had to dispatch them to their respective corners.
Verbal battle: Chris Hartcher departs the ICAC on Monday, followed by his son. Photo: Wolter Peeters
''I have already explained to you now on seven occasions that I don't recall,'' Mr Hartcher snapped. By day's end that well-worn phrase had reached multiples of seven.
Mr Hartcher, the last witness in what has been an extraordinary inquiry, was fired up
from the moment he arrived in the witness box, constantly offering tips to Mr Watson on how he could better perform his job.
The chief inquisitor was having none of it, suggesting to Mr Hartcher that he ''pocketed'' $4000 of Liberal Party cheques. He also alleged Mr Hartcher had laundered that $4000 using his old law firm's trust account. ''I reject that absolutely,'' Mr Hartcher said angrily.
When Mr Watson repeated the allegation, Mr Hartcher shouted, ''I resent that.''
''Don't you dare tell me that you resent anything,'' Mr Watson shouted in return.
As the pair continued yelling at each other, Alister Henskens, SC, for Mr Hartcher, added to the mayhem by shouting ''I object'' over the top of them.
The commissioner intervened, telling all parties to ''take a backwards step''.
She later said, ''Oh please, please, this is like squabbling children.''
The hostilities continued after lunch when counsel assisting accused Mr Hartcher of ''bunging it on'' by pretending to have no recollection of events. He said Mr Hartcher's memory seemed much improved when he was making a speech.
The commissioner weighed in, telling Mr Hartcher to stop making speeches. ''Your barrister is doing enough of that,'' she said.
''I object - I object,'' protested Mr Henskens, who was adamant that Mr Hartcher had been making submissions, not speeches.
As angry words continued to be hurled across the bar table, with Mr Hartcher throwing in some caustic asides for good measure, Commissioner Latham raised
her voice to be heard over the clamour, saying: ''Do not question my rulings.''
But soon the chief combatants were at it again with a ''were too/were not'' exchange as Mr Hartcher accused Mr Watson of not being sympathetic enough over the death of Mr Hartcher's good friend Nabil Gazal snr, the developer behind the Orange Grove shopping centre.
The unruliness turned physical once the hearing wound up for the day. Two female journalists were pushed and kneed in the lifts while leaving the hearing room and the young man responsible, believed to be one of Mr Hartcher's sons, kicked the legs of Channel Seven's state political reporter Lee Jeloscek as the media tried to film Mr Hartcher departing the building.
Round two will start on Tuesday at 10am.