An Obeid-linked company paid out $5000 to secure a meeting with Queensland Premier Campbell Newman when he was lord mayor of Brisbane, a NSW corruption inquiry has heard.
But Mr Newman’s office on Monday said he personally did not solicit cash for access.
“There was a price on meeting Campbell Newman,” counsel assisting the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), Geoffrey Watson SC, put to NSW Liberal Party fundraiser and lobbyist Paul Nicolaou.
“Yes, if you look at it that way,” Mr Nicolaou replied.
The ICAC is investigating claims infrastructure company Australian Water Holdings (AWH), which has been linked to former Labor MP Eddie Obeid’s family, corruptly billed Sydney Water for limousine rides, luxury hotel stays and lavish salaries.
The inquiry has heard AWH and a related firm, Australian Water Pty Ltd, paid $225,000 to Mr Nicolaou’s SolutionsRUs.
Mr Watson has told the inquiry there is hard and fast evidence the money was charged back to Sydney Water – yet investigators have been unable to find “a shred of paper” justifying the payments.
Mr Nicolaou said his work involved providing advice and opening doors, including in Brisbane, where he arranged a meeting between former AWH chief executive Nick Di Girolamo and Mr Newman in the lead-up to his re-election as lord mayor.
“The Lord Mayor of Brisbane is happy to see you. The person whom I am liaising with on your behalf would like you to donate the $5k as soon as possible,” he wrote in one 2007 email to Mr Di Girolamo.
Documents show Australian Water made a $5000 donation to Mr Newman’s lord mayoral campaign fundraising vehicle in June that year.
“Mr Newman had a price. He would meet Di Girolamo if Di Girolamo paid $5000, correct?” Mr Watson asked.
“Correct,” Mr Nicolaou replied.
A spokeswoman for Mr Newman told AAP the premier never asked for money to go towards his re-election, nor was it his habit to do so.
Mr Nicolaou also gave evidence that he was executive chairman of a NSW Liberal Party fundraising body, the Millennium Forum, and had an office at the party’s headquarters, which former AWH chairman Arthur Sinodinos would visit weekly in his role as party treasurer.
But he never mentioned that Mr Sinodinos’s company had him on a $5500 monthly retainer.
“Why, in four years, a period over which you pocketed $225,000 why didn’t you mention, gee Arthur, thanks for the money? Why wouldn’t you say that?” Mr Watson asked.
“It didn’t cross my mind to say that,” Mr Nicolaou replied.
The commission heard from former NSW planning minister Tony Kelly’s chief of staff Laurie Brown, whose diary notes indicate he was involved in multiple discussions involving AWH.
It has been alleged a cabinet minute calling for the government to reject a proposed partnership with AWH was submitted to Mr Kelly’s office, but that the document Mr Kelly later submitted to cabinet – twice – reversed that recommendation.
Mr Brown told the inquiry he could only recall having one conversation with Mr Di Girolamo but phone records reveal the pair had at least six conversations in March 2010 alone.