Tinkler's secret $18,000 donation to NSW Liberal campaign exposed at ICAC

A NSW Liberal MP voted for a controversial council plan to rezone land for a 2000-lot residential development owned by Nathan Tinkler months after receiving a secret $18,000 campaign donation from the businessman.

When Bart Bassett was a local councillor in May 2011, he voted for a new ­residential land strategy for the City of Hawkesbury on Sydney’s north-west fringe. The strategy favoured Mr ­Tinkler’s company, Buildev.

The strategy was approved six months after the coal baron gave $18,000 to Mr Bassett’s successful campaign for the state seat of Londonderry.

The donation was revealed in internal Liberal Party documents tabled at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Mr Bassett was regularly briefed by Buildev, which in March 2012 made an application to then planning minister Brad Hazzard to give the 180-hectare block high priority “gateway status”.

Mr Bassett, Mr Tinkler and Buildev executives are due to give evidence at the Independent Commission Against Corruption this week and the $18,000 donation is likely to come up.

Mr Bassett is still a member of the Liberal Party sitting in Parliament, unlike nine other MPs who have stood aside or resigned from Parliament in the wake of ICAC revelations about illegal campaign donations.

Mr Bassett did not return messages.

The Buildev campaign to rezone the site in North Richmond known as Yobarnie started in 2008 but suffered a setback about three months before Mr Tinkler made the donation to Mr Bassett’s campaign.

REFERRED BY KELLY

Buildev applied in July 2010 directly to then ALP planning minister Tony Kelly to rezone the rural land for ­residential use, using his power under the Metropolitan Development Program.

While ICAC has found Mr Kelly corrupt in relation to other matters, Mr Kelly decided Buildev’s application was too controversial for him to handle alone, since councillors from the City of Hawkesbury including Mr Bassett had disclosed accepting “less than significant, non-pecuniary” donations from Buildev via their party.

Mr Kelly referred the request for rezoning to the independent Planning Assessment Commission which in August 2010 advised against rezoning the site which was across a narrow bridge over the Hawkesbury River from Sydney and lacked infrastructure.

The commission wanted areas closer to Sydney developed first and said drainage works on the farmland had heritage value which should be protected.

Three months later, in December 2010, according to Liberal Party documents tabled at ICAC, another Tinkler company, Boardwalk Resources, paid $18,000 to Mr Bassett’s campaign for Londonderry.

The donation from Mr Tinkler was channelled through the trust known as the Free Enterprise Foundation which meant the source of the donation was not disclosed by the Liberal Party.

Donations from property developers were prohibited in NSW in 2009.

Mr Bassett was elected MP in March 2011 and remained on the Hawkesbury council. In May 2011 he voted in favour of a new residential land strategy for the City of Hawkesbury which identified Buildev’s site at North Richmond as a high-priority future investigation area for urban release.

This allowed Buildev in March 2012 to submit another development proposal for Yobarnie. Mr Bassett backed Buildev again in May 2012 when the council in a hotly contested 7-4 vote decided to request that the Liberal state government release the land for residential use quickly under a “gateway” process. The NSW Department of ­Planning told The Australian Financial Review its officials were not aware of any political donations. All political donations must be disclosed in ­development applications.

Some time after October 2012, with his empire under pressure, Mr Tinkler sold his interest in Buildev to Investment Management Australia.

Planning Minister Pru Goward finally rezoned the land in April this year but with significant conditions.

Mark Regent, development director of the Yabornie project, now called ­Redbank, is due to appear at ICAC on Friday. He told the Financial Review he discussed every stage of the project with Mr Bassett. “I just kept Mr Bassett informed as the local member.”

He said Mr Bassett was always much more positive about development than the ALP. Mr Regent said he was not involved in any donations made by Mr Tinkler or Buildev.

Mr Bassett is seeking preselection for the adjacent seat of Riverstone after Londonderry became a Labor seat as a result of a redistribution.

A Liberal Party pre-selection meeting was due to be held last week but was delayed. It is not clear whether the delay was due to Mr Bassett being named on the list of ICAC witnesses.

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