Gareth Ward refers himself to corruption watchdog

Garth Ward pictured last week with the four lead Liberal Party candidates for Wollongong and Shellharbour. Picture: Robert Peet.
Garth Ward pictured last week with the four lead Liberal Party candidates for Wollongong and Shellharbour. Picture: Robert Peet.

Gareth Ward referred himself to ICAC on Tuesday afternoon, after an ongoing spat between him and Shellharbour Mayor Marianne Saliba ended in calls for an investigation by the corruption watchdog.

Earlier, Cr Saliba said she believed Mr Ward should be referred to ICAC over his involvement in property acquisition for the Albion Park Rail Bypass.

Signalling her intention to raise the matter at Tuesday night’s council meeting, she also wrote to the Premier to ask for Mr Ward to be stripped of his Parliamentary Secretary of the Illawarra and South Coast portfolio.

Cr Saliba said she believed councillors would support her call, as Mr Ward had “interfered with a process that’s going on between the RMS and the council officers” regarding the bypass.

However, preempting the council’s vote, Mr Ward wrote to chief commissioner Peter Hall on Tuesday afternoon, asking that ICAC “urgently investigate” his own role in the bypass matter.

“Calls by publicly elected officials for investigation for alleged corrupt behaviour are the most serious,” Mr Ward wrote. “They [imply] a breach of the trust and confidence of the member of parliament to act in the best interest of the community.”

The bypass stoush began on Monday, when Mr Ward claimed the council was “blackmailing” Roads and Maritime Services into funding the Albion Park Bypass (a council project) by delaying property acquisition of land for the Albion Park Rail Bypass.

Cr Saliba refuted this allegation, and the RMS website reports that the project remains “on track” to start in 2019.

The ICAC referral was sparked later on Monday, when Mr Ward sent a letter to Cr Saliba detailing his thoughts and stating “it would be inappropriate for me to involve myself directly with property negotiations”.

But another letter from Mr Ward to Roads Minister Melinda Pavey requested that she “instruct RMS to proceed to the immediate compulsory acquisition of the land required”.

Cr Saliba said this showed “he’s actually interfered in the very thing he said he can’t interfere in.”

“He’s threatening us, he’s saying ‘you do something or I’m going to tell the minister to compulsorily acquire the land’.”

Cr Saliba said Mr Ward has started this action as a “campaign stunt” for Liberal council candidate Nathan Cattell.

“However he has gone way, way beyond politicking in the action that he has taken because he has now interfered in the process of the state government acquiring land from council,” she said.

“As the Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra, he should be rising above petty politics.”

This story Bypass stoush: Gareth Ward refers himself to state corruption watchdog first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.