A senior executive working for a long-time Liberal donor referred to the Free Enterprise Foundation as a “diversionary” organisation, emails obtained by the NSW corruption watchdog reveal.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is investigating claims the foundation was used to disguise back-door donations to the NSW Liberal Party in the lead-up to the 2011 election.
Among the high-profile donors under investigation is Nathan Tinkler, who has told the inquiry he believed the foundation was synonymous with the federal Liberal party, not the NSW party.
Property developers have been banned from making political donations in NSW since 2009, but are free to donate at the federal level.
Robert Millner, the chairman of Brickworks, told the ICAC on Thursday that the firm was a long-time Liberal supporter and that in 2010 he was asked to direct donations via the foundation.
“They just asked could we give part of the donation to the Free Enterprise Foundation,” Mr Millner said.
“We’ve been a donor many times before and many times after those dates and I agreed, and I took that proposition back (and) both boards agreed.”
Lindsay Partridge, the managing director of the publicly-listed company, said Brickworks regularly gave donations via the foundation because it was more “discreet” than handing money straight to the Liberal Party.
“It kept it out of the press’s eyes until after the official declaration was done, which was usually after the election,” Mr Partridge told the inquiry.
“Giving money to the Liberal Party was like giving a hot chip to a bunch of seagulls.
“The seagull that’s got the chip in its mouth doesn’t necessarily get to eat it.”
One email he sent on July 29, 2010 to senior NSW Liberal fundraiser Paul Nicolaou makes direct reference to a $50,000 donation for the state.
“Via the diversionary organization there is $50 for NSW, $250k in total,” Mr Partridge wrote to Mr Nicolaou, who was then running the NSW Liberal Party’s fundraising arm, the Millennium Forum.
He said it wasn’t till 2011 that he began asking his staff questions about NSW legislation restricting political donations “to see whether it affected us as such”.