A HIGH-RANKING Liberal Party figure and factional powerbroker is working as a lobbyist for the Balmain Tigers, prompting claims of dubious political influence over the club’s redevelopment bid.
The Premier, Barry O’Farrell, insists the contentious high-rise proposal is being considered at “arm’s length” from politics, despite a host of state Liberal MPs last week publicly declaring support for the plan.
NSW Liberal kingmaker Michael Photios has attracted controversy for holding a senior party role while running a lobbying firm, PremierState.
Mr Photios is listed as a lobbyist for the Balmain Tigers leagues club. He is also a member of the Liberal state executive, leader of the moderate faction and a close ally of Mr O’Farrell.
Last week, five Liberal MPs appeared in a Ryde newspaper, The Weekly Times, draped in club colours and urging the public to “Save Our Tigers” by supporting the proposal, submissions on which close on Monday.
They included the Attorney-General, Greg Smith, and the Minister for Fair Trading, Anthony Roberts, from the party’s hard right faction, and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Victor Dominello, Drummoyne MP John Sidoti and Strathfield MP Charles Casuscelli, of the moderates.
The Leichhardt mayor, Darcy Byrne, said the show of support made a mockery of claims that the project would be decided without political interference.
“It’s clear that the reason the Premier won’t … return planning control to the local community is because the Liberal Party won’t let him,” Cr Byrne said. “His closest political ally … is a paid lobbyist and a good portion of his cabinet is seeking to influence the process.”
The Planning Assessment Commission is considering the proposal on Victoria Road at Rozelle, comprising retail and food outlets, community facilities and a new club premises.
The Balmain Tigers are a major stakeholder in the project. The club insists its future hinges on the development.
A spokesman for Mr Roberts, the Lane Cove MP, said he was not expressing support for the project, despite being pictured wearing a black and orange tie and holding a Tigers flag. Instead, he was encouraging the public to “have their say”.
A spokeswoman for Mr Smith said he expected the proposal “to go through the proper processes”. Both MPs denied having spoken to Mr Photios about the plan.
Mr Photios, an avid Tigers fan, said he was employed by the club last year to provide strategic advice and was more recently engaged on an “occasional and pro bono” basis. He had never lobbied MPs or the Premier on the development, he said, describing his involvement as “unimpeachable”.
A spokesman for Mr O’Farrell said a decision on the proposal would be made “on merit by independent experts”.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.