News National How the Liberals’ top cash-raiser stared down Kerry Packer and his gun

How the Liberals’ top cash-raiser stared down Kerry Packer and his gun

Kerry Packer
The story of Kerry Packer, a gun, and a failed casino bid. Photo: TND
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Liberal Party bomb-thrower, legendary troublemaker and sheep farmer Bill Heffernan is 76 years old and long retired from politics.

But there’s not much he doesn’t know about Sydney’s wheelers, dealers and political donations.

Once upon a time, he was a highly successful Liberal Party bagman.

It’s a term he would not approve of because he did not accept cash when he tapped the rich and powerful for party fundraising, but there’s no doubt in his day he was one of the best.

It is political fundraising that NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption is currently considering, with explosive evidence of a plastic Aldi bag stuffed with $100,000 delivered to the ALP’s Sussex Street office, suicide notes, and Chinese billionaires.

So what can we learn from one of the Liberal Party’s great fundraisers about how to stay on the straight and narrow?

There’s no rulebook for political fundraising – but if there were one he should write it.

“I used to do it by just rocking up and saying, ‘Listen, mate, have you got any spare change?’” he told The New Daily.

Mr Heffernan spent a lot of time on the phone during his time in Canberra.Photo: AAP

It was through this method he raked in millions for the Liberal Party, with some of Australia’s richest men. His rules of engagement were simple.

“Every bastard knew, don’t try anything with me because the first thing people have got to understand in public life, the most important qualification, is not having a price,” he said.

“The emphasis I am trying to make is most people that I collected money from did it because they were very busy, very wealthy and they did it because they wanted to make a contribution to the country.

“If you can’t be bought, then it’s OK. I had two or three people, very well-to-do people, that I just wouldn’t do business with. And they knew that. They knew that it didn’t work.”

That’s where Kerry Packer and the Labor Party come in.

“I struck blokes who thought they could buy their way through, including Kerry Packer,” Mr Heffernan said.

“I’ll tell you one story on him.

“I went to see him to get a donation and he was in Park Street, or wherever his office was. I went into his office and there he is, sitting there, behind a desk, with a gun on his desk.”

Bill Heffernan
Bill Heffernan recounts a meeting with Kerry Packer – and a gun. Photo: AAP

At this point in the story Heffernan stops to laugh at the happy memory of Packer with his gun on his desk. The Junee farmer likes pistols himself.

“Anyway, he says, ‘Son, this is not a good time to be asking the Packers for a donation’.”

“Why is that, Mr Packer?,” Mr Heffernan asked.

“We didn’t win the bloody tender for the Sydney casino,” Mr Packer replied.

Mr Heffernan pointed out the Packers were the underbidders.

“And he said, ‘Son, that shouldn’t matter’.”

The Liberal fundraiser explained to Mr Packer that the Liberal Party couldn’t be bought – or at least, he couldn’t be.

‘We don’t work like that’,” Mr Heffernan told Mr Packer.

Mr Packer replied, “It wouldn’t have mattered with the other crowd”, referring to the Labor Party.

Mr Packer was suggesting that the Labor Party would have granted him the casino licence even if he was the underbidder.

But that’s never been the way that the former Liberal senator rolls.

Senator Bill Heffernan said in 2014 Parliament House was ‘no longer secure’. Photo: ABC News

A man with a distaste for the rules, he once took a pocket knife to Parliament and a replica pipe bomb to test security, but he never got into any trouble with fundraising. In fact, he blew the whistle on his own side.

A right-hand man to former Prime Minister John Howard back in the day, Mr Heffernan is not your everyday politician.

A sceptic on the China-Australia Free trade deal, he famously heckled as it was signed by ministers from China and Australia, “When are you going to put your currency on the market?.”

He even launched one of his solo missions to China once, just to try and work out what was going on with Communist leaders trying to influence politics here in Australia.

Former NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in Sydney on January 31 in 2013. Photo: AAP

He knows a bit about ICAC, too, because he triggered an investigation into the Liberal Party a few years ago when he blew the whistle on a dodgy scheme his own party was up to.

The issue was the same caper the NSW Labor Party was grappling with when it accepted the cash-stuffed Aldi bag. How to hide donations from prohibited donors who are property investors? That’s illegal.

But he won’t cop the idea these examples mean Australia should ban private donors, or Labor pointing out the Liberals did it, too.

“Excuse me, I was the whistleblower in the Liberal Party,” he said.

“We didn’t get caught. I dobbed them in. I didn’t hesitate. It only took me three seconds, I said, ‘Right, this has got to go to the bloody electoral authorities’.”

It ended up being referred to ICAC.

“I wasn’t going to get caught 10 years later with someone saying, ‘I told Bill Heffernan and he told me to shut up’,” he said.

The former senator is underwhelmed by Labor’s call to ban private donations and get taxpayers to fund election campaigns.

“Most people who make private donations do it for all the right reasons, to keep Australia the best place to live. But there are some who do it for other reasons. But if you can’t be bought, then it’s OK,” he said.

It’s good advice.

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