Hartcher quits after ICAC raid on offices

Senior NSW minister Chris Hartcher has quit cabinet after his offices were raided by investigators in a corruption probe that has been brewing on the Central Coast for months.

Mr Hartcher, the Liberal member for Terrigal, stood down as Energy Minister yesterday after his Erina office was raided by Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigators.

Mr Hartcher says he’s confident he will clear his name.

‘‘This is the first contact I have had with the ICAC and given that their investigations have thus far had an unknown timeframe, it is appropriate that I resign,’’ he said.

The ICAC search follows raids on the offices of two other Central Coast Liberal MPs, Chris Spence and Darren Webber.

In September, computers and documents were reportedly seized after claims of irregular donations to Central Coast Liberals.

It’s been reported that a trust fund was used to solicit and collect money from developers.

Last year Tim Koelma, a senior member of Mr Hartcher’s staff, resigned over the allegations.

His electorate officer Ray Carter was suspended. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

The NSW opposition says Mr Hartcher should be suspended from the Liberal party until the ICAC investigation is finished.

Opposition Leader John Robertson says the O’Farrell cabinet is in crisis, having  lost three ministers in the past four months.

Finance Minister Greg Pearce was sacked in an unrelated incident in August and Sports Minister Graham Annesley resigned the same month and took a job with NRL club Gold Coast.

‘‘[Premier] Barry O’Farrell’s front bench is unravelling,’’ he said.

‘‘This government is now more focused on its internal workings and what is going on on the frontbench than it is in dealing with the issues that are important to the people of NSW.’’

Mr O’Farrell, who is in India, supported Mr Hartcher’s decision.

In a statement, he thanked Mr Hartcher for his service, ‘‘in particular for his success in bringing electricity prices under control’’.

The NSW Greens welcomed Mr Hartcher’s departure, saying it was an opportunity to install someone other than a ‘‘one-eyed supporter of coal and coal seam gas over renewable energy’’.

‘‘Minister Hartcher was a poor minister who held many people... in contempt,’’ Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham said.

‘‘We’re pleased to see the back of him.’’

Mr Hartcher’s move triggered a frontbench reshuffle.

Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts will be Acting Minister for Resources and Energy, Special Minister of State and Minister for the Central Coast.

Stuart Ayres, the member for Penrith, will fill the vacant ministry position .

ICAC would not confirm details of its investigation.

However, officials were seen at Mr Hartcher’s Erina electorate office and the ABC saw a note on the front door that said  the office was ‘‘temporarily closed’’.

Donations from developers were banned in 2009 by then Labor premier Nathan Rees in response to the Wollongong council sex for developments scandal.   AAP

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