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ICAC finds member for Drummoyne John Sidoti MP corrupt

Wednesday 20 July 2022

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has found that Anthony (John) Sidoti MP engaged in serious corrupt conduct by using his official position, as a member of Parliament and the local member for Drummoyne, to try to improperly influence City of Canada Bay Council (CCBC) Liberal councillors to adopt and advance certain positions in relation to the Five Dock town centre that would benefit his family’s property interests in the area.

In its report released today, Investigation into the conduct of the local member for Drummoyne (Operation Witney), the Commission finds that, between approximately late 2013 and February 2017, Mr Sidoti engaged in a protracted course of conduct to try to improperly influence CCBC Liberal councillors, Helen McCaffrey, Mirjana Cestar and Tanveer Ahmed. Mr Sidoti’s electorate covered the same area as the CCBC.

In 2013, the council developed the Five Dock Town Centre Urban Design Study as part of a process to revitalise the Five Dock town centre that would reflect the community’s vision for the area. At the time, Mr Sidoti’s family owned a property at 120 Great North Road, which was within the town centre location. The study report recommended that, to achieve the floor space ratio (FSR) of 2.5:1 density, the maximum height be raised by one metre to 15 metres. However, it was only on larger sites, in excess of 2,000 square metres, that consideration of an additional storey was recommended. The Sidoti family property at 120 Great North Road had a total area of approximately 620 square metres and was therefore too small to benefit from any bonus proposed height increase.

Mr Sidoti advocated for an increase in the FSR to 3:1 for all sites in the town centre, regardless of lot size, claiming to represent “a lot of the smaller shopkeepers” who had conveyed their concerns to him. This position suited his family’s property interests but was inconsistent with the desire of the Five Dock Chamber of Commerce to see incentives to encourage site amalgamation and stimulate development for the benefit of Five Dock as a whole.

Mr Sidoti represented that at all times he was acting in the interests of his constituents. However, the Commission found that Mr Sidoti was unhappy with the recommendations directed to the revitalisation of the Five Dock town centre because the development potential of his family’s property at 120 Great North Road did not stand to materially benefit.

In October 2014 and May 2015, the Sidoti family purchased two additional properties in Five Dock, adjacent to and behind their original property, and the focus of Mr Sidoti’s advocacy became directed towards rezoning the Waterview Street block and the amendment of development controls that would benefit the redevelopment potential of the family’s three properties in and adjacent to that block.

At all times, Mr Sidoti represented to the Liberal councillors who could vote on the matter that he was acting on behalf of their shared constituents – either unnamed and unspecified shopkeepers who wanted the town centre expanded to include the Waterview Street block, or landowners in the Waterview Street block – when the Commission has found that the outcomes he was pursuing were directed to the pursuit of his family’s property interests.

The Commission found that Mr Sidoti’s conduct towards the councillors involved the use of pressure and threats to try to interfere with the impartial exercise of their official functions, to further his family property interests. It was contrary to his public duty to always put the public interest before his family property interests and involved a serious attempt to interfere with the independence and integrity of the exercise by other officials of their official functions. The Commission also found that when the councillors refused to comply with his desires to act in favour of his representations, he withdrew his endorsement for those who were contending the 2017 council election.

Mr Sidoti’s conduct  toward the councillors included maligning aspects of the design study and falsely accusing CCBC staff of making misleading statements about it; misrepresenting the concerns of the local business community, or “shopkeepers”, about the study and urging them to better represent their shared constituents and deliver their “vision”, although he could not identify any of the “shopkeepers”; engaging in persistent email and telephone communication and initiating meetings with the councillors before every meeting at which the relevant planning matters were due to come before council; advocating for planning outcomes that he represented reflected the concerns and feedback of unspecified constituents, but which in fact benefited his family’s property interests; directing their attendance at meetings and berating them for non-attendance; and suggesting their positions on CCBC could be threatened if they did not advance the positions he urged them to adopt and advance.

In one instance, by email of 8 April 2014, Mr Sidoti requested the Liberal councillors meet “to form a united stance” in relation to the study in the week before it was due to be voted on by CCBC. The Commission found that in this communication, Mr Sidoti was attempting to get the councillors to form a united voting position that challenged the council staff ’s recommendation to endorse it, was attempting to use his position and influence as a member of Parliament and the local member to interfere with the councillors’ independence, and he had an undisclosed private interest in achieving an increase to the recommended FSR for the town centre that he wanted to persuade the councillors to adopt and advance.

In another instance, in December 2016, when Mr Sidoti encountered Ms Cestar exercising on the Bay Run one Saturday morning, the Commission found that he threatened her continued position on council if she did not adopt the position he wanted in relation to the rezoning of the Waterview Street block at an upcoming CCBC meeting.

The outcomes that Mr Sidoti wanted those councillors to deliver were entirely directed to his private interest in increasing the development potential of his family’s growing number of properties in and around the town centre. Those outcomes were also inconsistent with what had been determined by the council, informed by the recommendations of its staff and the independent expert planning consultants engaged by CCBC following extensive community consultation, to be in the public interest.

The Commission is satisfied that the evidence establishes that Mr Sidoti failed to declare his interest in real property situated at 120 Great North Road, Five Dock, from the time he entered Parliament in March 2011 until 4 April 2017, contrary to his obligation to do so under the Members’ Code of Conduct and the Ministerial Code. However, the Commission is not satisfied that Mr Sidoti’s failure to disclose his legal interest in the property at 120 Great North Road until April 2017 was sufficiently serious to constitute a substantial breach of the Members’ Code.

The Commission has made 15 corruption prevention recommendations to help improve systems regarding the disclosure of pecuniary and private interests, and the management and declaration of conflicts of interest for members of Parliament, and to address councillors’ governance obligations, particularly in relation to lobbying, conflicts of interest and environmental planning issues.

The Commission seeks the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on whether any prosecution should be commenced. The DPP determines whether any criminal charges can be laid, and conducts all prosecutions. The Commission is of the opinion that consideration should be given to obtaining the advice of the DPP with respect to the prosecution of Mr Sidoti for the offence of misconduct in public office.

The Commission held a public inquiry in this investigation initially over four weeks from 29 March to 27 April 2021. Three weeks after the initial inquiry was completed Mr Sidoti, through his lawyers, served on the Commission a statutory declaration made by former Five Dock Chamber of Commerce vice president, Glen Haron. Mr Sidoti’s lawyers confirmed on 11 June that their client wanted the statutory declaration entered into evidence. Issues concerning the statutory declaration necessitated further investigation by the Commission and, ultimately, the reopening of the public inquiry. Due to the Covid-19 Greater Sydney lockdown that followed, the inquiry was re-opened for three days from 29 September to 1 October 2021. Chief Commissioner the Hon Peter Hall QC presided at the public inquiry, at which Mr Sidoti and 15 other witnesses gave evidence.

Investigation report                 Fact sheet