The NSW division of the Liberal party has been fined $600,000 of public funding because of unlawful donations received from property developers and funnelled through a blind trust during the 2011 election campaign.The NSW Electoral Commission on Thursday announced the penalty which arose from breaches of electoral law uncovered in 2014 during a NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry.
It said the breaches mostly involved the unlawful use of the Free Enterprise Foundation as a conduit for donations from property developers who are prohibited donors under NSW electoral law.
The commission which is led by Keith Mason, former president of the NSW Court of Appeal, said it decided to fine the Liberals only the value of unlawful donations rather than a double penalty available under the law.
This was because it would be hard to prove the breaches in some instances and because of “the importance of being able to provide prompt educative guidance to the public and all political parties”.
The good news for the Liberals is that the commission released a much bigger lump of public funding, about $3.8 million, which it has held up since February as it tried to force the Liberals to make full disclosure.
In the past six months the commission said the Liberals had provided a technically incorrect audit certificate and then refused to supply the identities of donors.
An amended disclosure by the NSW Liberals which was released by the electoral commission on Thursday now lists donations from a string of property developers including Meriton, Westfield Corporation, Crown International and Westfield plus some donors who did not feature in the ICAC hearings.
The delay in paying out the public funding strained the Liberals’ finances during the recent federal election and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reportedly made a large personal loan to the party to tide it over.
The commission did not pursue about $100,000 of donations which ICAC said were in breach of electoral laws because it said it would be too expensive to investigate fully, hard to prove and a statute of limitations applied to fines.
ICAC which only handed down its final report last month after a string of legal challenges made findings against 20 Liberal staffers, former MPs and one current MP but said it would not ask the prosecutor to consider charging them because a three-year statute of limitations under NSW electoral law.
The commission has said that Federal senator Arthur Sinodinos who was honorary party treasurer and finance committee chair during the 2011 election campaign was involved in the arrangements touching the Free Enterprise Foundation.
In its report last month ICAC said it was difficult to believe he and other party honorary officials were unaware of the scheme but made no finding against them because it said there was insufficient evidence.
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