News State NSW News AWH deal ‘albatross around our neck’: ICAC

AWH deal ‘albatross around our neck’: ICAC

Dr Kerry Schott
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A deal with an infrastructure company at the centre of a NSW corruption probe hung like “a commercial albatross around our neck”, a former Sydney Water chairman says.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has been told of a “sloppily drafted” 1992 contract under which Australian Water Holdings (AWH) would build sewerage and water infrastructure in Sydney’s northwest and Sydney Water would pay administrative costs.

But the state-owned utility ended up paying for lavish salaries, limousine rides and legal fees, the ICAC has heard.

Counsel assisting Geoffrey Watson SC put to ex-Sydney Water chairman Tom Parry on Tuesday that the two bodies were “like the Montagues and the Capulets”.

“We were always in dispute, there was always the threat of court action or injunctions,” Mr Parry said.

“(The contract) was like a commercial albatross around our neck.”

He said he warned then NSW premier Kristina Keneally’s office that he would consider referring to ICAC an allegedly doctored cabinet minute, which recommended a public-private partnership with AWH, if it was adopted by the NSW government.

The minute was a “complete distortion” of the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s original recommendation not to go ahead with the partnership, Mr Parry said.

“I thought this had been killed off,” he remembers telling an advisor to Ms Keneally about the minute.

“Obviously we needed to put a stake through the heart.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the commission heard that an investor – who said he warned then AWH director Arthur Sinodinos, now a senator, about AWH’s excessive bills – would be recalled before the ICAC for questioning by the senator’s silk.

Businessman Rod De Aboitiz last week said he was so concerned about the state of AWH’s books that he met with Senator Sinodinos.

He said he was told “the board was on top of it and that it was taken care of”.

Mr De Aboitiz’s lawyer on Tuesday told the inquiry he should not be recalled as a witness because this would cause “enormous stress”.

But Commissioner Megan Latham said Senator Sinodinos’s new barrister Tony Bannon SC should be allowed to cross-examine Mr De Aboitiz.

The inquiry continues.