NSW planning official referred to corruption watchdog Icac over house purchase allegation

<span>Former NSW Coalition minister Alister Henskens has raised corruption allegations using parliamentary privilege that will be referred to Icac.</span><span>Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP</span>
Former NSW Coalition minister Alister Henskens has raised corruption allegations using parliamentary privilege that will be referred to Icac.Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

The New South Wales government will refer claims of serious misconduct by a senior planning bureaucrat to the corruption watchdog Icac after concerns were raised by a former Coalition minister speaking under parliamentary privilege.

The Liberal MP for Wahroonga, Alister Henskens, on Thursday evening told parliament he had received “credible evidence” to suggest the planning department official had used insider information for personal gain through the government’s housing plan.

Henskens said documents showed that around the time the National Housing Accord was signed and before the state government’s Transport Oriented Development (Tod) scheme was announced, a public servant bought a home in an area to be rezoned under the policy and attempted to form a “property syndicate”.

Henskens claimed shortly after purchasing the north shore property, the planning official spoke with neighbours about “banding together to sell their properties to a developer promising a significant uplift on its current value because of the government’s likely housing policies”.

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“There is credible evidence that in the course of communications, the planning official has used confidential information before it has come into the public domain and passed that information on to residents in an attempt to make them become part of a property syndicate that the public official wants to put together.”

Henskens claimed the official paid over the suburb median for the home.

“There are reasons to conclude that the property was not purchased for the needs of the planning department official as the person’s previous property appeared suitable for their immediate needs,” Henskens said in parliament.

“A strong circumstantial case that the property’s acquisition was motivated by inside information as to the planned Tod policy can be made out.”

Henskens said the claims were backed up by a “discussion with a whistleblower with relevant knowledge corroborated by documents”. The MP said the whistleblower would cooperate with an investigation into the claims.

On Friday morning, the NSW planning minister, Paul Scully, said the government would not tolerate corruption of any kind and would be referring Henskens’s statement to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

“There is absolutely no place for the kind of actions being alleged by the member for Wahroonga,” he said.

The minister said all allegations of corruption should be reported to Icac.

The premier, Chris Minns, urged Henskens to cooperate with Icac and said the body was best placed to deal with the allegations.

“The NSW government takes allegations of corruption extremely seriously, particularly in the planning department,” he said.

“I would urge anyone, including that member, who had any information, to provide it to Icac as soon as possible so that we can ensure there’s a full and thorough investigation.”

Minns said Icac was proven to be able to “root out corruption precisely of the variety that’s been alleged”.

Henskens said any inquiry needed to be public and “conducted immediately”.

“If the government fails to get such assurances, then it needs to use its powers to urgently commission an independent judge with wide-ranging powers to conduct a full public inquiry,” he said on Friday.

The Tod scheme was announced in December as the Minns government’s signature housing policy.

The first phase of the scheme would see the rezoning of land within 1.2km of the stations at Bankstown, Bays West, Bella Vista, Crows Nest, Homebush, Hornsby, Kellyville and Macquarie Park.

The second tranche would see new planning controls applied to precincts within 400 metres of 31 train stations “which will allow the development of more multi-storey housing”.

• On 18 March 2024, Icac cleared the planning official of any wrongdoing and closed its investigation. Icac said there was no evidence the planning official or any other person engaged in corrupt conduct.

• This article was amended on 13 June 2024 to add the note above.