Nathan Tinkler has told the NSW corruption watchdog he donated thousands to the Nationals because of his devotion to the party even though he thought they were a “bunch of p****s”.
But counsel assisting the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), Geoffrey Watson SC, says the former coal mogul considered his donations the price that had to be paid to win political support for a lucrative coal loader on the Newcastle foreshore.
The ICAC has obtained an email sent by Mr Tinkler after his business lieutenant Troy Palmer sent him a newspaper article suggesting the coal loader proposal had picked up traction.
In his note, sent shortly after the 2011 state election, Mr Tinkler wrote: “This is just to pacify me because I donated to the nats and they are doing f*** all about it … we had a bunch of deadbeats before and now we have a bunch of p****s scared to make a decision”.
Mr Tinkler agreed this was a reference to the coalition government replacing Labor but said all he wanted from the government was a fair hearing.
“Do you often donate money to a bunch of p****s?” Mr Watson asked on Friday.
“I’ve given more to worse people, yeah,” Mr Tinkler laughed from the witness box.
It’s alleged the embattled businessman offered a bribe to the ALP’s ousted member for Newcastle, Jodi McKay – and when she turned him down, he helped ex-MP Joe Tripodi run a secret campaign against her.
Her replacement in parliament, Tim Owen, told reporters last week he was quitting politics after learning prohibited donors were “highly likely” to have contributed to his election campaign.
An emotional Ms McKay has previously told the inquiry she always suspected Mr Tinkler had been part of a plot to unseat her.
But Mr Tinkler has accused her of crocodile tears, telling the ICAC on Friday he had only broached the coal loader proposal with Ms McKay in a single two-minute conversation.
“I never took this to her, I never asked for her support,” he said.
He has also denied arranging for two employees and their partners to make $5000 donations to the Nationals to sidestep electoral donation cap laws.
“That’s ridiculous,” Mr Tinkler said.
Despite a handful of tense exchanges with counsel assisting, Mr Tinkler appeared relaxed in the witness box, smiling and even earning laughs from the lawyers in the hearing room.
“I’m starting to see why this has been going for three weeks,” he quipped at one point, after Mr Watson apparently rephrased a question one too many times.