It was the $10 million question at a corruption inquiry: "What's in it for Joe Tripodi?"
Explosive evidence suggests the corrupt former Labor MP and his colleague Eric Roozendaal went out of their way to facilitate the approval of a coal terminal for embattled coal mogul Nathan Tinkler in Newcastle.
On Monday counsel assisting the Independent Commission Against Corruption asked Mr Tinkler's former business partner David Sharpe the question on everyone's lips.
"Tell me, what's in it for Joe Tripodi?" Geoffrey Watson, SC, said.
"Nothing's in it for Mr Tripodi," Mr Sharpe replied.
"Really?" an incredulous Mr Watson said.
Mr Sharpe agreed the coal loader was worth "tens of millions of dollars" to the company. The ICAC heard that Mr Tinkler's property development company Buildev spent thousands of dollars flying Mr Tripodi, then a humble backbencher, to Newcastle in the coal mogul's helicopter to seek his advice.
"What other politician could you have called upon, flown up to Newcastle, [who would] do you a favour along those lines, Mr Sharpe?" Mr Watson asked.
"I don't know," Mr Sharpe said.
"There isn't one, is there?" Mr Watson said.
"I don't know," the Buildev co-founder replied.
According to the Buildev notes, written by Mr Sharpe after the November 2010 meeting with Mr Tripodi, the then Labor MP was "going to get Eric to stop" a rival deal to Mr Tinkler's coal terminal going to a government board for approval.
The notes also reveal a plot in which Mr Roozendaal would remove the land from the control of a state-owned company and deliver it to the Tinkler group.
The memo, entitled "Joe notes", described the then ALP powerbroker as Buildev's high level adviser. The notes also set out Buildev's plan to approach corrupt former planning minister Tony Kelly and corrupt bureaucrat Warwick Watkins to see if they were "still on side".
The inquiry has previously heard that Mr Tinkler's proposal was against government policy and was not supported by the then Labor MP for Newcastle, Jodi McKay.
Mr Sharpe admitted that Buildev illegally funded an anonymous "dirty tricks" campaign against Ms McKay to oust her from the seat.
One part of the campaign, in which Mr Tripodi allegedly played a crucial role, was an anonymous flyer campaign against Ms McKay.
Mr Sharpe said he had made a "bad choice of words" when he congratulated Buildev co-founder Darren Williams on the smear campaign and urged him to "kick the shit out of her [McKay]".
Text messages from Ann Wills, a Buildev consultant and longtime ALP staffer described as Mr Tripodi's "eyes and ears" in Newcastle, referred repeatedly to Ms McKay as a "bitch".
She told Mr Williams in one message that she was "on my way home to put the bitch in the freezer!"
She said this was a jocular reference to controversial former federal Labor MP Belinda Neal's reported habit of putting photos and names of her political enemies in the deep freeze.
When Ms McKay lost her seat to the Liberals' Tim Owen, who quit politics earlier this month, Ms Wills texted: "Woo hoo...The Princess is dead."
Ms Wills gave one suggestion as to what Mr Tripodi might have gained from assisting Mr Tinkler's company in the months before the March 2011 election, which swept Labor from power.
"You knew that after the election Mr Tripodi hoped to get a retainer or some position assisting Buildev on the proposal, didn't you?" Mr Watson asked.
"Yes," Ms Wills replied.
The story Joe Tripodi ran anti-Labor campaign to secure post-politics job with Nathan Tinkler: ICAC first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.