A chain of emails highlights the level of access a Liberal party donor, who contributed to a fund allegedly used to funnel banned donations, had to powerful federal party figures.
The emails between Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s chief of staff Peta Credlin and Liberal fundraiser Paul Nicolaou became public on Monday after a suppression order imposed by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was lifted.
In March 2011, Mr Nicolaou wrote to Ms Credlin referring her to a note from Lindsay Partridge, the managing director of Brickworks – a company he described as “a very good supporter of the party”.
“Paul, Lindsay provides a great line for question time,” Ms Credlin responded in an email with the subject ‘carbon tax’ a few hours later.
“Do you have a number that I might be able to contact him on and see if he was happy for us to use it and perhaps, use his sector as an example?”
The conversation appears to start with an email from Mr Partridge to Mr Nicolaou on March 1, 2011.
“Paul, tell Tony to stick to his guns on no carbon tax,” Mr Partridge wrote.
“Business does want certainty. We want certainty that there is no new tax. Thanks, Lindsay.”
After Ms Credlin and Mr Nicolaou’s email exchange, Mr Partridge made contact from France, where he was talking to a tile manufacturer about government subsidies.
“How are we supposed to compete against this,” he asked in an email to Ms Credlin and Mr Nicolaou.
“Under a Carbon tax (sic) regime many products including cement production will move offshore. The others the price will just go up by the tax.”
Mr Partridge earlier told the ICAC he regularly donated through the Free Enterprise 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,” he said.
The ICAC is investigating allegations the Free Enterprise Foundation was used to disguise back-door donations to the NSW Liberal Party in the lead-up to the 2011 election.
It’s alleged donors who wanted to contribute to the NSW party – but were prevented under 2009 laws that prohibited property developer donations – would give to the foundation instead.
An email Mr Partridge sent on July 29, 2010 to Mr Nicolaou makes direct reference to a $50,000 donation.
The emails had been suppressed over claims of a possible breach of parliamentary privilege.
Ms Credlin, in letter dated Sunday, wrote to the Speaker’s office saying she had no objections to the exchange being made public, prompting ICAC commissioner Megan Latham to lift the suppression order.
The current ICAC inquiry is looking at whether prohibited donations were solicited by Liberal members, including former cabinet ministers Chris Hartcher and Mike Gallacher, ahead of the 2011 NSW election.
Greens senator Lee Rhiannon told AAP Mr Abbott needed to “come clean”.
“Was Mr Abbott misled by his chief of staff (Ms Credlin) or is he covering up for her?” she said.
“These emails involving his chief of staff clearly put the spotlight back on a federal level, and at his office.”
Senator Rhiannon called on Mr Abbott to reform federal electoral laws and ban donations from corporations.