Tensions soared at a corruption hearing in New South Wales, where a sentimental MP claimed his reputation was being tarnished.
New South Wales Member of Parliament John Sidoti has accused the state’s corruption watchdog of “destroying reputation” in an exchange of fire ahead of a hearing over his conduct while in office.
Mr. Sidoti, a former liberal who now sits as an independent, denied accusations by the Independent Anti-Corruption Commission that he tried to pressure councilors in his constituents to make planning decisions that would benefit him and his family.
The former sports minister also denied that he violated ministerial guidelines by failing to disclose real estate interests in the area.
The ICAC has decided to hold public hearings this week after Mr Sidoti took the “unconventional” step of producing new material in support of his testimony.
This came in the form of a legal declaration signed by former Chamber of Commerce Five Vice President Glenn Harron, which corroborated the allegations that Mr. Sidoti made before the ICAC in April.
Sidoti was accused of fabricating evidence of a chance encounter with Mr. Harun while he was walking with his dog where he was reminded to organize a meeting with local councilors and business leaders.
On Friday, Sidoti was questioned during questioning by attorney assisting the commission Rob Rankin about how the statement appeared and suggested that parts of it had contradicted Mr. Aaron’s own evidence.
“You accused me of making up something, which is unacceptable. The deputy said.
“People have a reputation and you destroy them.”
It came on the day that New South Wales Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian announced that she would resign after becoming the subject of a separate ICAC investigation.
It had emerged at the hearings this week that Mr. Harun had not written the document that was alleged to have been Coined by Sidotti’s sister, Lisa Anderson and her husband David.
Rankin said Mr. Aaron told the committee he had “no recollection” about telling the MP how members of the Liberal Councils were invited to the Chamber of Business meeting, as Mr. Sidoti claimed in April.
Sidoti said he did not agree with that part of Mr. Harun’s evidence, but said the document generally asserted that he was not lying the last time.
At the last session, Mr. Rankin said Mr. Sidoti told ICAC that he did not remember the meeting until Mr. Aaron reminded him of it when they met in Drumwin.
Mr Sidoti responded that he was “trying to confirm” the details of the meeting and was “always on the impression” that he organized it.
He became emotional and began talking to Rankin, saying his life was a “wreck” and asking if he was expected to “sit there and play my thumbs” while his hearing was being distorted.
Chief Commissioner Peter Hall QC warned Mr Sidoti that if he did not settle it would take a long time for the hearing to conclude.
He replied, “I have plenty of time, delegate.”
The tense exchanges came after pressure was put on Mr. Sidoti’s sister over her participation in the preparation of Mr. Harun’s document.
She said after the ICAC public inquiry concluded in April, she was asked to “compile something” about what was known about the interaction between Mr. Sidoti and Mr. Aaron.
However, Mrs. Anderson rejected the suggestion that it was meant to be a draft document for Mr. Aaron.
“What I am suggesting to you is that from a very early stage after the conclusion of the public inquiry (in April), you have taken certain steps to maintain control over the form of evidence and the statement that Mr. Aaron will make,” Mr. Rankin said. “What do you say about that?”
“That’s nonsense,” Anderson replied.
The Independent Anti-Corruption Commission heard that she and her husband had called Mr. Harun on 28 April this year to ask if he was willing to make a statement about confronting Mr. Sidoti.
“My memory is that he said, being as busy as he was, he’d rather have something prepared for him,” Anderson said.
Mr Rankin commented that “fortunately” a document had been created before Anderson spoke to Mr. Aaron.
She told ICAC that she continued to draft for Mr. Haroun based on her conversations with him over the phone.
Anderson said Mr. Aaron had the final say in approving the contents of the documents: “In the end, if Mr. Aaron isn’t happy, that’s how the cookie crumbles.”
Mr Rankin said the claim was “unreasonable” because she decided to leave in a portion of the statement she knew he was “not sure of”, after he informed her of it in an email.
Mr. Rankin suggested that she was controlling Mr. Aaron’s version to ensure that it was compatible with her brother’s version.
“I did my best,” she said. “Everything has passed through the eyes of people more intelligent and more experienced than me.”
As tensions escalated, Rankin asked “how stupid he is,” thinking she was deliberately trying to mislead the watchdog.
On Thursday, Mr. Haroun was called to testify and said he largely agreed with the contents of the legal declaration.
He said the opportunity to meet Mr. Sidoti at The Parade in Drummoin had already taken place but that he believed parts of the document were “somewhat inaccurate”.
The session concluded at the end of Friday afternoon.
A final report is expected in early 2022.