‘An illegal act’? Donato referring Premier’s conditional pledge to electoral commission

ONGOING: Member for Orange Phil Donato said he would refer NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian's pledge to fund a sporting precinct in Orange if National candidate Kate Hazelton wins his seat in the state election to the NSW Electoral Commission.

ONGOING: Member for Orange Phil Donato said he would refer NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian's pledge to fund a sporting precinct in Orange if National candidate Kate Hazelton wins his seat in the state election to the NSW Electoral Commission.

MEMBER for Orange Philip Donato and his Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party will refer Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s conditional pledge to build a sports stadium in the city to the NSW Electoral Commission for investigation.

Ms Berejiklian was in Orange on Wednesday to announce her government, if re-elected next month, would fund $25 million towards a long-awaited purpose-built sporting precinct at an Orange City Council-developed block of land adjacent to the Northern Distributor Road.

The Premier said the funds would only be forthcoming should Nationals candidate Kate Hazelton topple incumbent Mr Donato in the March 23 poll.

This is not an action we take lightly. We believe there’s been a serious breach of the Electoral Act.

NSW Upper House parliamentarian Robert Borsak

“This will only happen if Kate’s the member … we want to make sure Orange gets its fair share,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Mr Donato, who labeled the pledge – “a blackmail and a bribe” – on Thursday said he will refer the matter to the state’s electoral authority, believing it contravenes the NSW Electoral Act of 2017.

“It seems clear to me the Premier breached section 209 on electoral bribery, treating and selling of votes in Orange on Wednesday,” Mr Donato said.

VIDEO: What the Premier said in Orange on Wednesday …

That section of the Act says “a person must not, in order to influence or affect any person’s election conduct, give or confer, or promise or offer to give or confer, any property or any other benefit of any kind to the person or any other person”.

It also says they must ”a person must not ask for, receive or obtain, or; offer to ask for, receive or obtain, or; or agree to ask for, receive or obtain, any property or any other benefit of any kind, whether for the person or any other person, on an understanding that the person’s election conduct will be in any manner influenced or affected”.

The penalties for these offences can be up to three years imprisonment.

But the Nationals have issued a statement in response, saying it’s misleading to claim this is a matter for the electoral commission.

“If he wasn’t so busy knifing his parliamentary colleague in the back … he would have had time to read the whole of Section 2019 which states: This section does not apply in relation to a declaration of public policy or a promise of public action,” the statement says.

“Do the Shooters have a plan to fund and build sports infrastructure in Orange or is this just another distraction tactic?”

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NSW Upper House parliamentarian Robert Borsak said the Premier had “essentially threatened the people of Orange: if you don’t vote for us, we will withhold funding paid for by your taxes”.

“This is illegal in a democracy for good reasons. It’s what most people would regard as bribery and corruption, worthy of a banana republic,” Mr Borsak said.

“We will write a formal letter to the NSW Electoral Commissioner reporting what we see as an illegal act.

VIDEO: What Mr Donato said on Wednesday …

“This is not an action we take lightly. We believe there’s been a serious breach of the Electoral Act.”

Nationals candidate Kate Hazelton said she would be “proud” to deliver the funding "should I be elected to Parliament".

The strategy of making election promises conditioned upon a candidate's success at the ballot box was used extensively by former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman ahead of the 2015 state election.

The tactic failed to save the Newman government, which suffered a 30 seat-rout including Mr Newman's own seat and was booted from power after a single term.

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