The former NSW Labor Party’s lawyer has contradicted suspended party boss Kaila Murnain, saying he “categorically” denies ever telling her to “forget” she knew about an illegal $100,000 donation to the party involving Chinese property developer Huang Xiangmo.
Source: Brad Norington, News Corp
NSW Labor Party lawyer Ian Robertson contradicts Kaila Murnain over $100k donation
Ian Robertson, national managing partner for legal firm Holding Redlich, also contradicted Ms Murnain during evidence to a corruption inquiry on Monday about when he first new anything about the $100,000 donation.
Mr Robertson said he first learned about the donation when a letter from the NSW Electoral Commission was referred to him for advice by the NSW ALP in December 2016.
Mr Robertson’s recollection is at complete odds with evidence from Ms Murnain, who previously told the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption that the party’s lawyer told her to “forget” it when she first informed him about the donations scandal three months earlier.
Ms Murnain has claimed she followed “religiously” Mr Robertson’s legal advice at a meeting on September 16, 2016, to kept quiet about the illegal donation — instead of referring the matter to the NSW Electoral Commission when she knew the source of funds given to the party was not from the named donor.
The suspended NSW ALP secretary says she was first told by then NSW Labor MP Ernest Wong about the illegal donation on that day outside NSW Parliament House — and that she went to see Mr Robertson soon afterwards on that day for legal advice about what to do.
According to Ms Murnain’s evidence, Mr Robertson told her: “There is no need to do anything from here. Don’t record this meeting, don’t put it in your diary. Forget the conversation happened with Ernest and, and I, I won’t be billing you for this either.”
Mr Robertson has been tested during ICAC evidence on Monday whether or not he gave Ms Murnain this advice, which would be a serious breach of his responsibilities as a lawyer and officer of the court if correct.
The NSW Labor lawyer said he had no recollection of meeting Ms Murnain on the evening of September 16, 2016 — a Friday.
But he said he now accepted — from records showing he personally allowed her to enter the office using his security card — that he did meet Ms Murnain on that evening.
While he could not recall what they discussed, he denied giving her any advice on an illegal donation related to Mr Huang. He recalled any advice given to Ms Murnain that day would have related to an unrelated donations breach in connection with NSW MP Nick Lalich.
Mr Robertson “categorically” denied giving any advice to Ms Murnain that she keep silent, or cover up in any way, information related to an illegal donation when records showed they met on September 16, 2016.
Mr Robertson told the ICAC in evidence on Monday he had provided most of his legal advice to the NSW Labor Party by email or phone, and had rarely met Ms Murnain in person since she became ALP secretary in early January.
He said he did could not recall the after hours meeting with Ms Murnain on a Friday, as she has suggested.
It was also unusual for a meeting to occur at his office on a Friday evening with his client, NSW Labor, but he said he was finishing much leftover work related to the party at the time before heading overseas after the weekend.
Mr Robertson also came under heavy criticism from ICAC chief commissioner Peter Hall SC on Monday for his “error” in giving legal advice to support NSW Labor’s decision to challenge the validity of a search warrant to raid party headquarters in December 2018 and seize documents related to ICAC’s illegal donation investigation.
In hindsight, Mr Robertson said, he agreed with Mr Hall about the “gravity” of challenging the warrant on grounds of alleged impropriety and illegality when the warrant would most likely not have been granted without proper cause.
Mr Robertson denied he went along with the NSW ALP’s complaint to the ICAC’s inspectorate about the raid to “divert” or “hinder” attempts to get to the truth of the matter.
Counsel for the NSW Labor Party, Arthur Moses SC, told the ICAC the party now accepted that “properly advised” the letter to the ICAC inspector should never have been sent.
In other evidence, Mr Robertson said he also regretted in hindsight the advice he gave to NSW Labor in December 2016 — when the state’s Electoral Commission issued a notice to produce to the party during its initial inquiries into the illegal donation before the matter was referred to handed to ICAC.
Mr Robertson said in hindsight he agreed that agreed with NSW ALP responses to the NSW Electoral Commission that did not amount to full party co-operation in saying that an ALP official, Kenrick Cheah, brought a $100,000 donation into head office.
It has since been alleged that the money was brought to the NSW ALP headquarters after a party fundraiser by Chinese property developer of Huang Xiangmo in March 2015.
ICAC chief commissioner Mr Hall also challenged Mr Robertson’s knowledge of Mr Huang’s background in 2016 as a property developer when investigations into the donation first began.
He said he did not know Mr Huang was a property developer, banned under NSW laws from donating to NSW political parties, at the time in September 2016 when he was advising the ALP on another matter involving Mr Huang and his relationship with then senator Sam Dastyari. But he confirmed he did know Mr Huang was a property developer by the time of inquiries from the NSW electoral commission.
Mr Robertson was reminded that his firm was a $10,000 donor to the Australia-China Relations Institute, and that he sat on the body’s advisory body. Mr Huang was the biggest donor to ACRI.