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ANTHONY KLAN

The NSW MP suspended for sharing pornographic images of a colleague separately oversaw a secret Liberal Party scheme that gutted a Sydney council, according to evidence before an inquiry.

Tying together two of the state’s biggest scandals, Peter Poulos allegedly played a central role in the shock removal of the mayor and six other councillors of the Hills Shire Council in December 2021.

NSW Liberal MP Ray Williams has alleged the councillors all Liberal Party members — were removed in an “undemocratic political process” orchestrated by the NSW Liberal Party State Executive.

It is alleged Sydney property developer Jean Nassif paid senior Liberal Party figures “significant funds” to install councillors to get developments approved.

A NSW upper house inquiry probing the allegations has received a document stating Poulos chaired the meeting “that determined those candidates” to be installed.

“Peter was the chair of the Liberal Party’s Local Government Oversight Committee, the body that created and implemented the secret process that determined most of the candidates that were installed in the Hills,” the document states.

“He chaired the meeting that determined those candidates.”

“Peter was the chair of the Liberal Party…body that created and implemented the secret process”

The claims are made in a document titled “The men who stole the Hills”, which was tabled to the inquiry by NSW upper-house Labor MP John Graham.

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It lists the 11 current NSW Liberal upper house MPs and states whether they have a “conflict of interest” in relation to the Hills Shire Council overhaul.

The source of the document is not stated, yet giving weight to its accuracy, the two Liberal members of the inquiry MPs Chris Rath and Aileen MacDonald — recused themselves from a hearing last week after it was tabled.

The document states both Rath and MacDonald had a “significant” conflict because they had been members of the “State Executive of the NSW Liberal Party” and had “voted favourably in matters related to the Hills”.

Seven of the 11 Liberal MPs in the NSW upper house have a “conflict”, the document states. Source: NSW upper house.

The document was tabled on Wednesday last week, but its significance appears to have been overlooked by media to date.

The day it was tabled, Rath and MacDonald both declared a “conflict of interest” because they had each been “a member of the Liberal Party State Executive”.

The document alleges four of the 11 NSW upper house Liberal MPs had “no conflict”.

Of the seven with an alleged “conflict”, three were alleged to have a “significant” conflict.

They were Rath, MacDonald and Poulos.

Poulos did not respond to a request for comment.

Last week it emerged Poulos had in 2018 shared naked images of NSW Liberal MP Robyn Preston from the 1980s, when she posed for an adult magazine.

Poulos had been in a preselection contest with Preston at the time, which Preston won.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet last week stood by Poulos, on Wednesday saying “people make mistakes” and “no one is perfect”.

Premier Perrottet initially stood by Poulos. Source: Guardian Australia/AAP

Perrottet’s stance was widely criticised and, bowing to public pressure, the NSW Liberal Party on Saturday announced it had “suspended” Poulos for six months.

The Klaxon’s revelations show the electoral baggage of Poulos extended beyond the nude photos controversy, with allegations putting him at the centre of the Hills Shire Council scandal.

The suspension means Poulos cannot run as Liberal Party candidate in the March 25 NSW election.

Yet because it is only for “six months”, if the Perrottet Government is reelected, Poulos could be endorsed by the Liberal Party for reelection at any by-elections held from mid-August.

 

Preston

In a twist, Preston, whose nude images Poulos circulated, appears prominently in the Hills Shire Council allegations.

Preston was a Liberal Party affiliated Hills Shire councillor from 2008 until early 2021.

She was elected NSW MP for the seat of Hawkesbury in March 2019, after the NSW Liberal Party pre-selected her in late 2018 to run in the safe seat.

Both the NSW seat of Hawkesbury and the Hills Shire are located on Sydney’s north-west fringe.

Poulos shared nude magazine photographs of Preston in relation to the pre-selection battle for Hawkesbury in late 2018.

It was reported at the time that nude photos of Preston had been “leaked to media outlets” but Poulos was not named.

“Explicit photos smear campaign” a report from December 2018. Source: SMH

In June last year, Liberal MP Ray Williams told the NSW Parliament of allegations that “senior members of the Liberal Party” had been given “significant funds” by developer Jean Nassif to “arrange to put new councillors on the council” in 2021.

Nassif, who controls developer Toplace, denies the allegations.

He declined an invitation to give evidence, telling the upper house inquiry he was in “remote Lebanon”.

The inquiry has heard Hills mayor Michelle Byrne, and six councillors — all Liberals — were ousted at the December 2021 local election, after the NSW Liberal Party secretly opted to put forward a string of other candidates.

Williams has raised allegations that Preston, while still a Hills councillor, had “actively supported” a controversial Toplace development proposal and had been involved in “caucusing with Liberal councillors in order to obtain support for Toplace”.

“(Preston) was also mentioned on the Ray Hadley 2GB radio program as organising some of he new councillors for the Hills Shire Council,” William’s told parliament last June.

 

Timeline:

  • 2008: Preston becomes Hills councillor
  • Late 2018: Poulos shares nude pics of Preston
  • March 2019: Preston becomes NSW MP for Hawkesbury
  • Early 2021: Preston resigns as Hills councillor
  • 2021: Nassir allegedly funds Liberal Party group stacking
  • Dec 2021: Hills mayor Michelle Byrne & six councillors ousted
  • June 2022: NSW Liberal MP Wilson makes allegations
  • Dec 8 2022: Upper house inquiry announced
  • Feb 15 2023: Allegations that Poulos oversaw “secret process” determining Hills candidates
  • Feb 18 2023: Poulos suspended from NSW Libs

 

Last week Michelle Byrne, ousted as Hills mayor in December 2021, told the inquiry she “absolutely” believed developer cash was behind the gutting of the council but she was unable to prove it.

Byrne said the “whole team was swept aside” in a “lack of democracy” and the issue was a matter for the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

(Williams referred the allegations to the ICAC last year).

The inquiry has heard that working for Preston, in her capacity as NSW MP, is Virginia Ellis.

Virginia Ellis was one of the new councillors elected to the Hills Shire in December 2021.

From left: Councillor Virginia Ellis, Charles Perrottet, Jean-Claude Perrottet. Source: Supplied

The inquiry has heard that Virginia Ellis is the mother of Liberal Party figure Christian Ellis.

Last week businessman Fritz Mare, another Liberal Party figure, told the inquiry that around 2019 he had been approached by Christian Ellis and Jean-Claude Perrottet, who is  Dominic Perrottet’s brother.

Mare said the two men has sought $50,000 from him to “revenge unseat” Federal Liberal MP Alex Hawke but he rejected the request.

Christian Ellis and Jean-Claude Perrottet are alleged to have run a group called NSW Reformers, which sought to “recruit 5,000 Christian conservatives” to “take control” of the NSW Liberals.

The “NSW Reformers”, revealed in 2019. Source: SMH

The NSW inquiry has launched a state-wide hunt for Virginia Ellis, Christian Ellis and Jean-Claude Perrottet, who it says appear to be avoiding giving evidence.

Almost two weeks ago the NSW upper house moved to “serve” each of them, meaning they will be arrested if they fail to attend, but it has been unable to find them.

If they are served with legal documents, then must attend the inquiry and give evidence under oath.

However time is running out because the NSW Parliament will be dissolved on March 3 ahead of the election.

The inquiry had also been seeking to serve Christian Perrottet, another of Dominic Perrottet’s brothers, to force him to give evidence.

This week he wrote to the inquiry saying he would not be giving evidence.

Christian Perrottet is located in Victoria, which means the upper house cannot legally force him to attend via summons.

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