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ICAC's reality politics better than reality TV

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Kate McClymont, Michaela Whitbourn

ICAC appearance: former resources minister Chris Hartcher.

ICAC appearance: former resources minister Chris Hartcher. Photo: Phil Hearne

The continuing inquiries by the Independent Commission Against Corruption are proving that reality politics can be more riveting than reality TV. The next ICAC episode, which starts on Monday, is expected to deliver several twists and turns given that its backdrop is the stench of corruption surrounding developers, their hefty donations to political parties and possible favourable outcomes.

Developer donations were banned by then Labor premier Nathan Rees in 2009. But the month-long corruption inquiry is expected to uncover underhand methods by which some developers subverted this process in return for favourable treatment from Liberal Party MPs.

 "Operation Spicer is mainly concerned with political fund-raising in the Liberal Party and the way in which unscrupulous businessmen sought to buy political influence," said Geoffrey Watson, SC, counsel assisting the ICAC, recently.

The stars of the show will be three central coast state MPs – former resources minister Chris Hartcher, Darren Webber and Chris Spence. The inquiry will examine whether the trio and former staffers Tim Koelma and Ray Carter "corruptly solicited, received and concealed payments from sources in return for certain members of Parliament favouring the interests of those responsible for the payments".

The big reveal will be the details of what favours were granted in return for generous donations. 

Central to the inquiry is the activities of Eightbyfive, a company controlled by Koelma, which is alleged to have operated as a secret slush fund.

The recently completed ICAC inquiry into the activities of Liberal fund-raiser Nick Di Girolamo revealed that his company, Australian Water Holdings, had Eightbyfive on a monthly retainer of $7333 since April 2009. ICAC investigators were unable to ascertain what work the company performed for its hefty and prolonged fees.

Koelma was unable to produce crucial documents that proved he had done work for Australian Water as they were destroyed by a flood in his garage, he told the commission.

Among the developers on the witness list are undischarged bankrupt Pat Sergi; land developer and hotelier Peter Hesky; Tim Gunasinghe, president of the Erina Chamber of Commerce; and Eric Stammer, of Yeramba Estates, who is listed as the inquiry's first witness.

Nabil and Nicholas Gazal, the directors of property development company Gazcorp, are also on the witness list. Hartcher delivered an impassioned tribute to their father, Nabil Gazal snr, after his death in 2010. Praising him as a "true Renaissance man", Hartcher told Parliament that Gazal "made an impact on me that I shall carry for the rest of my days".

In a statement earlier this year, Gazcorp said it had donated to the Labor and Liberal parties and "at all times those donations were made in strict accordance and compliance" with the law.

Also on the witness list is former Newcastle Labor minister Jodi McKay, who is expected to detail the rocky relationship she had when she opposed the now financially troubled coal baron Nathan Tinkler. 

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