SOURCE: Sydney Morning Herald
Controversial former Labor MP Joe Tripodi was involved in a secret campaign to help a group of independents associated with Richard Torbay at the past state election, a former associate claims.
The allegation, which Mr Tripodi denies, comes amid claims that Labor was secretly funding the campaign of Mr Torbay, whose Armidale premises were raided by Independent Commission Against Corruption investigators on Wednesday, less than a week after he dramatically resigned as an independent from State Parliament.
His resignation occurred hours after senior Nationals figures received explosive information concerning Mr Torbay that led to his immediate disendorsement as the Nationals' candidate to contest the New England seat in the federal election. The matter was also referred to ICAC.
The associate, who has asked not to be named, said the Labor Party ''wanted to support a group of country independents that Torbay was putting together. But they wanted to put some distance between ALP head office and this campaign. He [Tripodi] thought I would be a good person to run it.''
The associate said that although he was amenable to the offer, he didn't hear anything further ''possibly because ALP polling showed that not only was Labor a lost cause but that voters intended to bypass the independents and vote directly for the Coalition'', he said.
However, he said that before the March 2011 state election Mr Tripodi held a meeting at his kitchen table where he provided Nick Berman, the Liberal-turned-independent candidate for Hornsby, with the highly prized Labor Party's NSW electoral database.
''I gave them a breakdown of the Hornsby state electorate into each of the wards or suburbs for Nick Berman to do direct mail,'' the associate said.
Mr Tripodi denied this, telling Fairfax Media: ''I don't know what you are talking about.'' Mr Berman, the former Liberal mayor of Hornsby and a former employee for then Liberal MP Jackie Kelly, did not return calls.
Retired school principal Des O'Malley revealed that in 2004 now Labor state secretary Sam Dastyari worked on the campaign of country independent Dawn Fardell.
''Somebody that knew of him put us on to him. He was very handy because he knew all the ins and outs of getting things such as printing and mail outs done,'' said Mr O'Malley, who was Ms Fardell's campaign manager.
Mr O'Malley said that although Mr Dastyari brought a number of skills to their otherwise amateurish campaign, carpentry was not one of them.
Mr Dastyari was trying to make sandwich boards with the timber and brand new drill he had bought from the hardware store, Mr O'Malley said. ''He was out the back of our office and there was smoke going everywhere and he was grinding away … 'I can't get the bloody thing to work,''' complained Mr Dastyari. ''Mrs Fardell's son pointed out the drill was in reverse,'' laughed Mr O'Malley.
Mr Dastyari, who was a member of Young Labor and a university student at the time, said he had gone to Dubbo to volunteer on the Labor campaign only to find there was no candidate. He said he ended up being asked to help with Ms Fardell's campaign since Labor wasn't in the race.
Last year News Ltd reported Mr Dastyari saying that it was Mr Torbay who had asked him to run Ms Fardell's campaign in 2004. But Mr Dastyari said yesterday that was not the case and he first met Mr Torbay when they worked on Ms Fardell's campaign together.
Fairfax Media can reveal that Mrs Fardell failed to disclose a $20,000 donation by the Australian Hotels Association to her unsuccessful 2011 election campaign.
The AHA also donated heavily to other country independents in both 2007 and 2011.
''Donations from the AHA to Richard Torbay and his closest independent allies in Parliament went from $17,000 in the 2007 election to $40,000 in the lead-up to the 2011 contest,'' Greens MP John Kaye said.
''Prior to the 2011 election, the AHA was a major financial backer of the Labor Party.
''Suddenly their political donations behaviour changed to focus on the Torbay-aligned independents.''