Business First held fund-raiser at Parliament

Royce Millar and Reid Sexton

July 27, 2011 –>

A LIBERAL Party support club at the centre of a campaign funding controversy held a Parliament House fund-raiser in May, attended by Planning Minister Matthew Guy despite a government freeze on such events.

Liberal insiders have confirmed that Mr Guy was among those present at the $75-a-head function on May 24, also attended by development industry lobbyist Geoff Leigh. Mr Guy yesterday insisted the event was not a fund-raiser.

The function was organised by the Chelsea-based support club, Business First. Yesterday, The Age revealed the club had breached federal electoral laws by failing to declare tens of thousands of dollars in donations before last year’s state election.

The group was founded by Mr Leigh and Liberal MP Inga Peulich. Business First’s mailbox address is Ms Peulich’s electoral mailbox. She has failed to respond to repeated calls to her office and mobile phone over the past week about Business First.

Last night government spokesman Paul Price said Mr Guy’s attendance at the May function was not at odds with the conditions of the fund-raising freeze. He did not elaborate.

In February, Mr Baillieu imposed a ban on ministers attending fund-raising events after he cancelled a $1500-a-head Liberal Party event featuring Mr Guy and Transport Minister Terry Mulder.

A code of conduct was to be drafted to give ministers and staff clear rules around fund-raising, gifts and hospitality. But after eight months in office the code has not been delivered, adding to a growing sense of disquiet about party finance among Liberals. Yesterday, Mr Baillieu would only say the code would be released before the end of the year.

Mr Baillieu would not say who was developing the code or if, when finalised, it would bar ministers from functions hosted by large corporations. ”I’m not going to pre-empt the code that we’ve put in place. We’ve been focused on governing this state and we’ll get round to [the code].”

Business First raised money

for Liberal candidates in a group of key bayside seats that helped the Coalition beat John Brumby’s government in November.

After days of inquiries by The Age, the Liberal Party lodged its first disclosures for Business First with the Australian Electoral Commission for 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 late last week.

It had not made disclosures as is required by law for money raised in those years, including at functions attended by Mr Baillieu, Mr Guy and Treasurer Kim Wells, who were then in opposition. Yesterday, the party also made a point of releasing details for financial year 2010-2011, not due for lodgment until October. It showed Business First made $25,521 in 2010-2011. The previous year it generated $24,655.

The government has so far failed to deliver on its promise to require public records to be kept of all meetings between ministers, or their staff, with lobbyists.

Mr Guy has refused to make public how many times he and his staff have met Mr Leigh since the election.



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