Ex-Labor powerbroker Joe Tripodi says he didn’t take a secret trip so he and ex-minister Tony Kelly could get their story straight.
Former minister Joe Tripodi says he took a 10-hour round trip to rural NSW to learn about hay, not straighten out a story with ex-MP Tony Kelly.
Counsel assisting the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), Geoffrey Watson SC, on Thursday accused Mr Tripodi of trying to elude investigators by switching his mobile telephone off for most of the trip to Wellington.
But Mr Tripodi did not realise his sat-nav system was tracking his every turn, Mr Watson said.
“You turned off your telephone that day, deliberately,” Mr Watson put to the witness.
“You didn’t want anybody to have the facility to track where you were going.”
The corruption watchdog has heard allegations Mr Tripodi and Mr Kelly helped create a sham cabinet minute that boosted Australian Water Holdings’ (AWH) prospects of securing a lucrative public-private partnership.
The document replaced – and effectively reversed – expert advice prepared by external consultant Brian McGlynn.
The two men agreed they had a hand in altering the original minute: Mr Kelly agreed it was his decision to put up a new “positive” minute, while Mr Tripodi said he provided “working notes” that were incorporated in the paper.
But both men deny penning the final minute or working to further AWH’s interests to benefit crooked ex-MP Eddie Obeid, whose family allegedly had a secret stake in the company.
It was revealed on Thursday that Mr Tripodi visited Mr Kelly’s Wellington property in central western NSW early last year.
Mr Kelly said his old parliamentary colleague showed up unannounced with a hamburger in one hand and a coffee in the other and the men chatted about what fellow ex-MPs were up to.
Mr Tripodi mentioned that former planning minister Frank Sartor was writing a book “bagging out Labor” and that the notorious cabinet minute alteration would get a mention, Mr Kelly said.
“And then he finished his hamburger and said, okay, good to catch up with you and off he went,” Mr Kelly said.
In a bizarre afternoon of evidence, Mr Tripodi claimed he was in the area to scout out a possible hay export scheme for a Chinese friend.
“You know lucerne costs about $12 a bale. It’s not even economic to move lucerne (the 100km) from Wellington to Orange, so why would someone be exporting it back to Shanghai?” Mr Watson asked incredulously.
“Did you go down there for the sole purpose of getting stories straight about the cabinet minute?”
“Absolutely not,” Mr Tripodi said.
The inquiry heard about extensive telephone contact between Mr Tripodi and former AWH chief executive Nick Di Girolamo.
“Like two young lovers,” Mr Watson said. “You were at it all day.”
Mr Tripodi denied he did anything wrong by putting Mr Di Girolamo in touch with then-water minister Phil Costa.
“I did that for many, many people on many, many issues,” Mr Tripodi said.
“There was a dry cleaner at Wynyard that approached me when I was catching a train, raised some issues, and I went and raised it with a minister.”
“We haven’t got to that inquiry yet,” Mr Watson quipped.
The inquiry continues on Friday with Mr Di Girolamo due to give evidence.