A storm erupted around NSW Sports Minister John Sidoti last week over his property interests, their proximity to future metro stations and a linked political donation made by a developer to the NSW Liberal Party.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Sept. 17 announced she had received a letter from the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) indicating it would conduct a preliminary investigation into the allegations against Sidoti.
She said she accepted the MP’s offer to stand aside from cabinet while the ICAC investigated the issue.
“As I have said before, I believe the public’s confidence in the integrity of government decision making is absolutely paramount,” she said in a statement.
“I believe ICAC’s review is an important step in maintaining the public’s confidence in these matters.”
Sidoti bought the properties when he was the parliamentary secretary for transport and the parliamentary secretary for planning.
In a budget estimates hearing last week, he insisted he didn’t have any knowledge that metro stations were slated to be built close to two properties he had an interest in, and denied he had failed to adequately disclose his property interests to parliament.
Sidoti also denied he had any hand in a favourable planning decision that increased the value of a property he had an interest in at Rouse Hill from about $4 million to $70 million.
He told the hearing—more than 100 times—that he had always complied with his obligations.
It was revealed last week that a property developer who was partnering with Sidoti on the project made a $1750 donation to the Liberal Party in 2015.
The Liberal Party previously said it was working with the NSW Electoral Commission to forfeit that illegal donation.
In a statement released after the premier’s announcement, Sidoti again denied any wrongdoing and said he looked forward to having his name cleared.
“The allegations made against me by the media and exacerbated by the opposition and the cross bench in budget estimates and parliament are false and inaccurate,” he said.
“I deny any allegations of wrongdoing. I have no undeclared conflicts of interest or benefits.”
NSW Labor last week referred Sidoti to the ICAC following his grilling at the hearing.
Opposition Leader Jodi McKay on Tuesday moved a motion requesting parliament back her referral just an hour before Sidoti stepped aside.
John Sidoti developing property near Metro stations while a Cabinet Minister doesn’t pass the pub test. I’ve just moved a motion asking the full weight of the NSW Parliament to refer him to ICAC.
— Jodi McKay (@mckay_jodi) September 17, 2019
“I am pleased the Independent Commission Against Corruption has now confirmed it is acting on our referral and investigating Liberal Minister John Sidoti,” McKay tweeted after the announcement.
Tensions erupted over the issue during question time, with the premier stressing it was now “a matter for ICAC” before pointing the finger back at Labor’s own issues with declaring property interests.
Geoff Lee will act as minister for sport, multiculturalism, seniors and veterans.