Labor leader Jodi McKay suspends Kaila Murnain

 

ALP boss Kaila Murnain was dumped on Wednesday night following a day of damning evidence at an ICAC corruption hearing, including explosive claims of legal cover-ups.

Parliamentary leader Jodi McKay ordered party officials to meet on Wednesday night to suspend Ms Murnain, saying she had lost "confidence in her judgment".

"Tonight I am taking steps to clean up the mess at ALP head office," she said.

"I am appalled by the evidence of the past three days."

Kaila Murnain leaves The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) public inquiry into allegations concerning political donations on Wednesday. Picture: AAP/Joel Carrett
Kaila Murnain leaves The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) public inquiry into allegations concerning political donations on Wednesday. Picture: AAP/Joel Carrett

Ms Murnain was once considered a darling of the Labor party after speaking at her first state conference aged just 15 and rising through the ranks to become the first female general secretary.

She faces further grilling today at the ICAC hearing into whether Labor took illegal donations.

Earlier, Ms Murnain told a stunned public hearing an ALP lawyer had advised her to keep quiet about an illegal $100,000 cash donation.

She said she had sought help from Labor lawyer Ian Robertson on a Friday night in September 2016 after discovering what she described as a "massive f. k up".

But instead Mr Robertson allegedly told her "forget the conversation happened".

It followed a meeting with a "sweating" MP Ernest Wong behind the back of NSW state parliament, who told her that a donor from the March 2015 dinner had complained they were not the real donor and that, in fact, exiled Chinese billionaire property developer Huang Xiangmo was the real donor.


ICAC is investigating the NSW Labor Party and an alleged "straw donor" racket used to bypass electoral donation laws. Ms Murnain said Mr Wong appeared "distressed" and "agitated".

Ernest Wong leaves the ICAC public inquiry into allegations concerning political donations on Tuesday. Picture: AAP/Joel Carrett
Ernest Wong leaves the ICAC public inquiry into allegations concerning political donations on Tuesday. Picture: AAP/Joel Carrett

She said she then rang ALP Senator Sam Dastyari for help, as he had previously held her job as assistant general secretary. He drove to Hospital Road at the rear of parliament, picked her up, and they drove around the Domain for "five to 10 minutes" while she cried and explained the situation. He told her to ring the lawyers, and she did so that night.

Under questioning from the ICAC counsel, Ms Murnain recalled she probably walked to the MLC Centre, which housed the offices of the ALP lawyers, that night and a text message was shown to the hearing time stamped 7.18pm with a message from her to an "Ian" saying "I'm at the top of the escalator".

But Ms Murnain said Mr Robertson allegedly told her not to tell anyone about their meeting that night.

"Ian said to me 'don't record this meeting'," Ms Murnain said. "(He said) 'Don't put it in your diary. Forget the conversation happened with Ernest. And I won't be billing you for this either. And don't tell anyone about it', so I didn't literally tell anyone about it."

A statement from Holding Redlich said partner Mr Robertson would give evidence to the hearing next week and "has the firm's full support".

Earlier, Ms Murnain said she could not recall many details of the alleged $100,000 cash donation, and rejected allegations by an earlier witness - ALP staffer Kenrick Cheah - that she would have seen him counting the cash at the party's Sussex St headquarters.

She also said she did not authorise him to take the money, in an Aldi bag, home.

Supplied photo of Kaila Murnain (right) with Kenrick Cheah. Ms Murnain faces ICAC today.
Supplied photo of Kaila Murnain (right) with Kenrick Cheah. Ms Murnain faces ICAC today.

During the hearing, Ms Murnain repeatedly said she could not remember key details around the $100,000 donation. The inquiry was told the money was banked on April 9, 2015, but Ms Murnain said she was unable to remember whether she found out about the money before or after it was banked.

"He (Mr Cheah) would frequently bring in bags of money from fundraisers but I can't recall particularly days this would happen," she said.

Labor Party NSW assistant general secretary Pat Garcia will step into an acting role.
Labor Party NSW assistant general secretary Pat Garcia will step into an acting role.

Ms Murnain agreed with the counsel assisting Scott Robertson that it was possible she could have told Mr Cheah to "be careful" but she did not recall saying it.

She said she could not remember exactly when she was told "there was a large amount of money" given to the ALP. She was not aware of any procedure for taking cash home at ALP HQ.

Ms Murnain said the office did contain a safe, but the-then general secretary Jamie Clements was the only person with access to it.

DEVELOPER FEARED HE WOULD BE ATTACKED

Retired Chinese property developer Steve Tong says he was fearful about losing his job and even being assaulted if he didn't comply with his boss's demand he make a false statement about a $5000 donation to the ALP.

ICAC is investigating whether "straw donors" or false donors were used by the NSW ALP to bypass electoral laws.

Mr Tong, from the Chatswood-based Wu International Investments, told the corruption hearing he had no interest in politics, nor the ALP and so was "dumbfounded" to get sent a tax invoice out of the blue for a $5000 ALP donation he never made.

Mr Tong says his boss Alex Wu and senior work colleague Dr Leo Liao, who later committed suicide ahead of an ICAC hearing, pressured him to sign a false declaration that he did in fact make the donation.

***IMAGE SUPPLIED TO THE PICTURE DESK BY CLARISSA BYE*** (L-R): Steve Tong, Ross Wilson, Richard Lennox, Mayor Councillor Gail Giles-Gidney, Alex Wu, Carl van Selm and Dr Leo Liao
***IMAGE SUPPLIED TO THE PICTURE DESK BY CLARISSA BYE*** (L-R): Steve Tong, Ross Wilson, Richard Lennox, Mayor Councillor Gail Giles-Gidney, Alex Wu, Carl van Selm and Dr Leo Liao

The invoice was from a 12 March 2015 Friends of Labor dinner.

"I was also concerned that they would take a revenge on me," he said "They would hire some scoundrel to assault me. I don't know."

Mr Tong said he did not attend the dinner.

Documents released by ICAC show that when NSW Electoral Commission officials sought further information from Mr Tong, from Pennant Hills, two years ago, he "stated he was ill and near death".

In a letter to the investigators, Mr Tong stated: "Forgave me, I am sick near died. How are you still want a dying person talk about the future."

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Lawyer Ian Robertson leaves the ICAC on Wednesday. Picture: Richard Dobson
Lawyer Ian Robertson leaves the ICAC on Wednesday. Picture: Richard Dobson
Ms Murnain contacted then federal senator Sam Dastyari (pictured) after the meeting with Mr Wong.
Ms Murnain contacted then federal senator Sam Dastyari (pictured) after the meeting with Mr Wong.
Ms Murnain leaves the ICAC hearing via Castlereagh Street in Sydney. Picture: Dylan Robinson
Ms Murnain leaves the ICAC hearing via Castlereagh Street in Sydney. Picture: Dylan Robinson
Dr Leo Liao committed suicide ahead of the ICAC hearing.
Dr Leo Liao committed suicide ahead of the ICAC hearing.