A far-right wing “Christian” group allegedly connected to a brother of NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet was likely involved in illegally funnelling property developer cash to stack a Sydney council, an inquiry has heard.
In explosive testimony, former Liberal mayor of the Hills Shire Council, Michelle Byrne — one of six councillors ousted in 2021 — said she “absolutely” believed developer cash was behind the shock gutting of the council.
In June last year NSW Liberal MP Ray Williams told state parliament senior Liberal Party members had been “paid significant funds” by a Sydney property developer — Jean Nassif — to get councillors elected to the Hills Shire Council to get developments approved.
Byrne and most of her Liberal Party colleagues lost endorsement from the Liberal Party ahead of the 2021 council election, which saw an overhaul of councillors.
The “whole team was swept aside” in a “lack of democracy”, she told a NSW upper house inquiry.
It is illegal in NSW for property developers to finance elections.
When asked whether she thought developer money had “been accepted by others” to facilitate the “branch staking” Byrne responded: “without a doubt”.
“There’s no other explanation I can draw. Absolutely. Without a doubt,” she said.
“There’s no other explanation I can draw. Absolutely. Without a doubt” – Michelle Byrne
Byrne said she did not have evidence of the alleged activities, but that it was a matter for the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) to investigate.
“I knew that something wasn’t right,” she said.
“It doesn’t take a genius to realise that something’s not right”.
It appeared there had been a move to “get the pain-in-the-butt mayor out of the way” who was “seen as anti-development”, Byrne said.
The revelations are a major blow for Perrottet, who earlier today fronted media and accused the Labor Party of “playing smear games with my family”.
Summonsed. From left: Councillor Virginia Ellis, Charles Perrottet and Jean-Claude Perrottet. Source: Supplied
Yesterday Liberal Party member and businessman Fritz Mare told the inquiry that in around 2019, Jean-Claude Perrottet and Christian Ellis, a former Liberal state executive member, had sought $50,000 from him for a “branch stack” operation.
Christian Ellis, his mother Virginia Ellis and Jean-Claude Perrottet have all gone “missing”.
“Christian Ellis, his mother Virginia Ellis and Jean-Claude Perrottet have all gone missing”
Virginia Ellis, a current Hills Shire councillor, is also an employee of Robyn Prestin, the NSW Liberal MP for Hawkesbury, the inquiry has heard.
The inquiry is also seeking to summons Charles Perrottet, also a brother of NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet to appear and give evidence.
On Friday last week the inquiry announced it had been seeking thethe “key individuals” to provide evidence,but they appeared “to be deliberately avoiding” the inquiry.
It was seeking to “summons” the individuals, meaning they would be arrested if they failed to attend and give evidence.
Despite the search being national news for almost a week, and it employing professionals in the search, the inquiry has been unable to find them.
Premier Perrottet today said he had not spoken to his brother Jean-Claude and he did not know where he was.
“Leave my family out of it. Seriously,” the Premier said.
“The Labour Party are playing games with my family…I’m focused on delivering for the people of NSW,” he said.
“The Labour Party are playing games with my family” – Dominic Perrottet
The majority of the members of the upper-house inquiry are made up of ALP and cross bench members.
Byrne, who said she retained a strong affinity for the Liberal Party, said she had reservations about the inquiry’s timing but the matters needed investigating.
“I find it curious it is held on the eve of an election and may be mudslinging but I do find the issues raised (by Liberal MP Ray Williams) concerning and require further investigation,” Byrne said this afternoon.
“(It) may be mudslinging but I do find the issues raised concerning and require further investigation” – Michelle Byrne
She said she believed “developer cash” had been “funnelled into branch recruitment” via “lobbying firms”.
Charles Perrottet has allegedly worked as a lobbyist in the Hills district.
In 2019 it emerged there was a “conservative Christian plot” to “take control” of the NSW Liberal Party.
The Sydney Morning Herald revealed a secretive entity called the NSW Reformers was “working to recruit 5000 Christian conservatives to the NSW Liberals” to “take control of the state division of the party”.
“If we recruit 5000 Christian conservatives we will control the NSW division of the Liberal Party,” a group manifesto reportedly said.
Petitions that “netted the data of hundreds of constituents” targeted by the NSW Reformers referred to “gender ideology”, “gay surrogacy” and “religious freedom”.
The group had “no contact numbers on their website” and there was “no indication on the site of who leads the group”, it was reported.
Byrne, who served as Hills Shire Council mayor for seven years, said she was “absolutely” aware of NSW Reformers and she was aware there was a push to “take over the area”.
She said the group appeared to want to “take over the world” by getting members appointed to local councils, “then state then the feds”.
Robyn Prestin, the NSW Liberal MP for Hawkesbury, was appointed to the Hills Shire Council before becoming a NSW MP, the inquiry heard.
Upper house Labor MP John Graham told the inquiry The Reformers – a “shadowy group inside the Liberal Party” – had been founded by Christian Ellis.
Property developer Jean Nassif has been called to give evidence to the inquiry but has said he is unable to do so as he is in “remote Lebanon”.
He denies any wrongdoing.
After Williams raised his concerns in June last year, Perrottet referred the matter to the ICAC.
Two inquiry members recused themselves from today’s hearing, over a potential conflict of interest.
NSW ALP upper house MP John Graham filed a document with the inquiry claiming seven of the 11 Liberal MPs in the NSW upper house had a “conflict” regarding the Hills Shire Council.
As previously revealed by The Klaxon, it was Dominic Perrottet, as NSW Treasurer, who approved the $5.5 million gun club grant that is the focus of the ICAC’s Operation Keppel, which brought down Gladys Berejiklian as NSW Premier.
Despite this – and despite the grant being illegal under NSW legislation – the ICAC did not publicly question the Premier over his ties to the scandal.
Following The Klaxon’s revelations the ALP put a series of questions to Perrottet, in the NSW upper house, about his ties to the scandal.
Last month the ICAC drew heavy criticism after the shock announcement it was highly unlikely to release the findings of Operation Keppel until after the March 25 NSW election.
As revealed by The Klaxon, that was in part due to a last minute secret probe, regarding which ICAC only received responses on October 18: over five months after it had received responses from all other entities in Operation Keppel.
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