The findings of a high-profile corruption inquiry into NSW political donations may be delayed for a second time, after the High Court said it could not hear a case with major implications for the investigation until mid-year.
Property developer and former Newcastle mayor Jeff McCloy, who has admitted to giving illegal cash donations to state Liberal candidates, has launched a constitutional challenge to NSW laws banning donations from developers.
Mr McCloy was one of several developers hauled before the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s inquiry last year into political donations.
The commission was due to hand down its findings in the inquiry, codenamed Operation Spicer, in late January, but it has delayed doing so pending the outcome ofa separate High Court battle with Crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen, SC, which is due to be heard in March.
On Monday, High Court Justice Stephen Gageler said the seven judges of the court would not be available to hear Mr McCloy’s case until the second week of June.
The barrister for Mr McCloy, David Bennett, QC, said his client would prefer an earlier date and “from my client’s point of view, June is some time after the [March 28 state] election”.
“I suppose there’s no hope of February?” Mr Bennett said.
“I don’t think I need to respond to that,” Justice Gageler replied.
Mr McCloy is seeking to have the NSW ban on developer donations overturned by the High Court on the basis it infringes the implied freedom of political communication in the Commonwealth Constitution.
The High Court ruled in December2013that a similar ban on donations by trade unions and corporations – introduced in 2012 –was invalid on this basis.
Mr McCloy’s challenge also extends to the ban on donations by the liquor, gaming and tobacco industries.
If the High Court strikes down the laws, it would be as if they had never existed.
This would affect the bases on which the commission could make corruption findings against MPs and developers caught up in Operation Spicer, including Mr McCloy and embattled coal mogul Nathan Tinkler, because it would not have been illegal for them to make the donations.
However, the men may still have breached other laws.
A spokeswoman for the commission declined to comment on whether Mr McCloy’s case would delay its findings.
The High Court will hear a number of cases relating to corruption inquiries this year. The commission says the Cunneen case goes to the heart of its powers and will affect past, present and future investigations, including Operation Spicer.
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