Guest of honour … Barry O’Farrell. Photo: Luke Fuda
BARRY O’FARRELL was the guest of honour at a Liberal Party function at which property developers were urged to make donations – and yesterday party bosses were forced into making a humiliating promise to refund $5000 taken at the event.
It is the second time in a week that a Liberal fund-raiser held at Candelori’s Italian restaurant in Smithfield has landed the state government in hot water. The Sun-Herald revealed last week that Anthony Roberts, the Fair Trading Minister, was the star turn at a lunch at Candelori’s in April when western Sydney property developers bid $2000 for private lunches with him.
Mr O’Farrell, as the then opposition leader, was the keynote speaker at Candelori’s in July 2010 when Vic Cavasinni, the owner of Cavasinni Constructions and Beechwood Homes, handed over $5000 towards the Liberals’ 2011 election campaign.
Under NSW laws, political parties are forbidden from accepting property developer cash.Advertisement
The Premier yesterday insisted he was unaware developers attended but the Liberal Party pledged to return Mr Cavasinni’s $4750 cheque and ask the NSW Electoral Commission to investigate the matter.
Mr O’Farrell said in a statement: ”I had no role in issuing the invitations for the 2010 event organised by the Liberal Party and was unaware developers were present.
”Like all Liberal Party functions I attend, I expect the organisers to fully comply with all legislation regarding political donations. I have brought in the nation’s toughest campaign finance laws, which I might add were opposed by Labor.”
Returns lodged with the Election Funding Authority show Cavasinni Constructions Pty Ltd gave $4750 to the Liberal Party in Smithfield in the financial year to June 30, 2011.
A Liberal Party spokeswoman said the donation would be returned and the matter referred to the NSW Electoral Commission but added that Mr Cavasinni had been asked if he qualified as a property developer before his money was accepted and he said he did not.
Mr Cavasinni told The Sun-Herald he only became aware ”a few months ago” that he was ineligible to donate but would not comment any further.
Both functions were hosted by Smithfield Liberal MP, Andrew Rohan, whose electorate office is metres away on the Horsley Drive.
Linda Burney, Labor’s deputy leader, called on Mr O’Farrell to strip Mr Rohan of his preselection in Smithfield. ”Andrew Rohan is clearly up to his neck in it and, frankly, people like that don’t belong in the Parliament,” Ms Burney said.
”Barry O’Farrell needs to explain how Andrew Rohan was ever pre-selected in the first place and rule out endorsing him as the Liberal Party’s candidate at the next election. The people of Smithfield deserve to have a local MP they can have confidence in and after this week it’s clear the Member for Smithfield doesn’t fit the bill.”
Mr Rohan’s office did not return calls. The local press reported at the time that David Clarke, MLC, leader of the Liberal right, was also at the lunch with his factional ally, Marie Ficarra, MLC, Mr Rohan and Mr O’Farrell.
The most political damage from the Candelori’s lunches has so far been to Mr Roberts, who fronted the April lunch at which Mr Cavasinni and two other developers, David Masterton of Masterton Homes and Peter Fowler of Fowler Homes, bid $2000 to have lunch with him.
The episode became the focus of Labor’s question time attack last week and Mr O’Farrell was forced to ask the Electoral Commission to investigate.
The Liberal Party has insisted those cheques were never cashed after an alarm was raised that the businessmen qualified as property developers. Despite that, Mr Roberts hosted Mr Masterton and Mr Cavasinni for separate lunches at Parliament House just months before a review of the Home Building Act.