NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has called for a review into whether minister John Sidoti used confidential information for his personal benefit, namely property investment schemes.
Sidoti, the NSW minister for sports, multiculturalism and seniors and veterans, was grilled in a hearing this morning over property investments in close proximity to Sydney metro stops that would be built in the future.
He was in the role of parliamentary secretary for transport during a period when the transport department designed a new road to land he part-owned in Rouse Hill. This later won approval for a $70 million high-rise precinct.
Sidoti cops grilling in his first senate estimates hearing
During the nearly two-hour budget hearing, Sidoti answered questions about whether he knew train stations were going to be built near properties he had bought – which would have increased the property’s value – and whether he’d used inside information for his own personal gain.
Questions centred around Sidoti’s 10 per cent stake in a property in Rouse Hill – situated near Tallawong metro station – and his parent’s property in Five Dock.
The sports, multicultural and seniors and veterans minister was asked why he had taken so long to disclose his interest in the properties, acquired in 2011, to parliament. He disclosed them in 2016.
He repeated, more than 100 times: “I have complied with all of my obligations.”
Greens MP David Shoebridge accused Sidoti of being a “parliamentary secretary for planning by day and a property developer by night”.
“There's such an obvious conflict of interest, how could you not understand that,” Shoebridge said.
“You acted grossly inappropriately, if not – in the definition of the ICAC Act – corruptly.”
Minister Sidoti has a financial interest in a $70 million residential development in North West Sydney that's been subject to favourable planning decisions. His answers to questions on this during today's parliamentary hearings were woefully inadequate. pic.twitter.com/dieg6o3nIR— David Shoebridge (@ShoebridgeMLC) September 12, 2019
Sidoti also declined to answer Shoebridge’s questions about how he acquired a stake in the Rouse Hill property which rose in value from $4.1 million to $70 million.
Labor member of the NSW Legislative Council (MLC) Walt Secord said Sidoti’s dodging of questions and his answers “did not pass the pub test”.
“You have a simple question before you: how did you get a 10 per cent share in a piece of property that is worth $70 million,” Secord said according to SMH reports.
“I would know if I got a piece of property how I paid for it.”
Berejiklian orders review into ‘hard-working’ Sidoti
Berejiklian announced the review after Sidoti’s budget estimates grilling.
“I believe the public’s confidence in the integrity of government decision making is absolutely paramount,” Berejiklian said in a statement today.
“That is why today I have asked the Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet [Tim Reardon] to conduct a review into allegations that have been made regarding minister Sidoti’s disclosures and other obligations as a Minister.”
She added that she regarded Sidoti as a “hard working MP” and noted he had “given strong assurances that he has acted appropriately at all times”.
“I believe the Secretary’s independent review is important to ensure there is ongoing public confidence in these matters,” Berejiklian said.
The review will examine whether Sidoti complied with the NSW Ministerial Code of Conduct’s disclosure requirements; whether the minister had access to confidential information that may have benefited his personal interests; and whether Sidoti property managed any conflicts of interest.
Refer this to ICAC: Labor
But NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay said a review was “the easy way out” and called on Berejiklian to refer Sidoti to the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC), saying that if Berejiklian did not by the end of the day, McKay would herself.
“We can have no confidence that this minister has done the right thing,” McKay said as reported in SMH.
"If she's going to lead her party appropriately she needs to take the hard decision and the hard decision but the right decision is to refer this matter to ICAC, the right decision is to stand him aside," she said.
Before the senate estimate hearings began, Sidoti issued a statement “categorically” denying “all allegations made against me in the media in recent days”.
“To suggest I used my position as a member of parliament to influence government decisions for my private interests are a gross misrepresentation of fact,” the statement said.
"My pecuniary interests are publicly available and I comply with my obligations."
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