Democracy For Sale

by Priyo Australia | September 17, 2012 4:44 am

A STATE Government minister, Anthony Roberts, hosted lunches at Parliament House with prominent western Sydney property developers who had each bid $2000 for access to him.

Property developers have been banned from making political donations in NSW since 2010. The businessmen who wrote cheques at a Liberal Party fund-raiser in April include Vic Cavasinni, the multi-millionaire owner of Cavasinni Constructions and Beechwood Homes, David Masterton of Masterton Homes and Peter Fowler of Fowler Homes, based at Wetherill Park.

The Liberal Party insisted yesterday that the cheques paid had not been cashed after suspicion that laws around property developer donations would be breached. Nevertheless, the party confirmed that the lunches with Mr Roberts, the Fair Trading Minister, had been auctioned at a fund-raiser, that cheques were accepted and the meetings went ahead.

Details of the lunches will be an embarrassment for the Premier, Barry O’Farrell, who has tried to distance his government from the era of commercial sleaze associated with Labor and the property developer fraternity. It will also heap more pressure on Mr Roberts, who was recently rebuked by the Premier who said ”wannabe Joe Tripodis” had no place in his government.

Mr Roberts is also embroiled in claims he verbally assaulted a female staff member, causing her ”severe psychological trauma”.

His lunches took place at State Parliament in the months before Mr Roberts released a discussion paper in July on the upcoming overhaul of the Home Building Act. Its main recommendation was the winding back of warranty insurance which currently protects home owners from shoddy builders. The reform is seen as a potential boon for the struggling home-construction sector and is supported by builders.

Mr Cavasinni, who attended a lunch at Parliament House with Mr Roberts in April, said he had bid on behalf of a friend who wanted to talk about concerns over hidden building costs and bushfire limitations. He told The Sun-Herald he had already had an impromptu meeting with Mr Roberts over coffee at the well-known Smithfield Italian restaurant Candelori’s.

”He walked into the restaurant with [Smithfield MP] Andrew Rohan and came over to where I was sitting. We had a coffee and I expressed some concerns I had with the Home Building Act. He agreed there were some anomalies,” Mr Cavasinni said. ”He seemed like a good bloke and was happy to hear about some of the trials and tribulations of completing homes in NSW.”

Peter Fowler, of Fowler Homes, confirmed he had bid $2085 for lunch with Mr Roberts but had yet to arrange a date. Mr Fowler said he believed the money had been drawn from his personal account by the Liberal Party. A Liberal Party spokeswoman said: ”From the information we’ve been provided from Smithfield, we understand no money has been accepted and that no laws have been breached.”

Mr O’Farrell’s office refused to comment but a spokesman for Mr Roberts said: ”The minister meets with a range of stakeholders as part of his duties. Community and industry consultation is a key part of the policy formulation process. At all times he has been compliant [with] the relevant legislation.” He declined to comment on what had been discussed at the lunch.

The affair began at Candelori’s on April 11 when Mr Roberts was the drawcard at a $850-a-table fund-raiser. According to the invite, money raised would go to the election fund of Mr Rohan, whose electorate office is just doors away from Candelori’s on the Horsley Drive, Smithfield. The lunch was arranged by Mr Rohan’s electorate officer, Zaya Toma, a Fairfield councillor seeking re-election.

Property developers cannot contribute a cent to political parties. Under a law passed in 2010, individuals or corporations that ”regularly make planning applications” are banned.

Mr Toma said about half the cheques taken on the day had been returned so far.

Tania Mihailuk, Labor’s spokeswoman for fair trading, said: ”It defies belief that the minister responsible for reviewing the state’s home builders legislation would take paid meetings with developers. There can be no excuse. It’s becoming clearer that developers are calling the shots in Barry O’Farrell’s government.”

Correction: The original version of this story said that Zaya Toma was Andrew Rohan’s chief of staff.

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