MATESHIP is inherent in Australian culture. It can be a noble sentiment. But when does doing a favour for a mate cross the boundary into corrupt conduct, particularly when one is the mining minister entrusted with state assets worth billions, the other a factional ally and friend?
That question, along with a gastronomic tour of some of Sydney's fine restaurants, is likely to pre-occupy the Independent Commission against Corruption as it investigates the third leg of its inquiry into allegations of corrupt conduct by former NSW minister, Ian Macdonald.
Dubbed 'Sir Lunchalot' because of his penchant for fine dining, Mr Macdonald or 'Macca' has already starred in the inquiry into whether he was offered the services of a prostitute, Tiffanie, in return for introductions to government officials.
He was also a central figure in the inquiry into the creation of a mining exploration tenement over land owned by another former minister, Eddie Obeid, at Bylong near Mudgee.
Now counsel assisting, Peter Braham SC, has outlined the case against Macdonald and his Christmas Eve 2008 grant of an exploration licence for a training mine at Doyles Creek in the Hunter to a company that included his friend and political ally John Maitland, the former mining union boss.
Mr Braham told ICAC the Doyles Creek training mine "was essentially gifted" to a group of investors from Newcastle, including Mr Maitland, in a process that he described involving "real delinquency on the part of the Minister in the discharge of his public office".
Over magnums of Wantirna Lily pinot noir at Catalina, steaks at Prime at the GPO and oysters at NSW Parliament House, Macca first listened to the investor and then became "a proponent" for a "training mine" at Doyles Creek.
Against the repeated advice of his department, he decided there would be no tender or expressions of interest for the licence and ran the process out of his office, he said.
Documents were drafted out of Macdonald's office, the department was kept in the dark, while the investors were kept in the loop over prime cuts and fine wine.
"This was unprecedented," Mr Braham said. The department only found out about the minister's decision from the media.
The result was a "financial disaster for the taxpayers of NSW and a gold mine for the investors," he said, as Mr Maitland's original $166,000 investment was turned into a $15 million profit.
The idea of a training mine could be seen as "puffery and spin" designed as a cloak for the process because the industry had established a simulated training facility, he said.
Mr Braham said it was open for the commission to inquire into whether Mr Macdonald was influenced to a large extent by his personal and political relationship with Mr Maitland, and if Mr Maitland, and fellow investors Craig Ransley and Andrew Poole, knew and intended for Mr Macdonald to be so influenced.
Several politicians including NSW MP Luke Foley, Senator Doug Cameron and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese will be called to give evidence about how in 2006 Mr Macdonald was fighting to keep his place on the Legislative Council ticket. He said there was no claim of wrongdoing against these witnesses.
We can expect to hear evidence about whether the recently retired Mr Maitland, for many years the force behind the CFMEU's mining division, was influential in that process.
The inquiry begins hearing evidence from the first of 60 witnesses tomorrow. It is expected to run until the end of April.