Photo: Paul Nicoloau exiting ICAC. By Stephen Cooper, Daily Telegraph
TTN: Ex-AHA NSW bos Paul Nicoloau is in the ICAC’s spotlight again after the current Finance Director of the NSW Liberal party gave evidence that Nicoloau’s philosophy on Liberal party fundraising was “What they (ministers) want, they get.” Nicoloau stated in 2012 that no Labor-affiliated individual would ever be installed as an AHA chief, but as alcohol businesses are banned political donors, the appropriateness of Nicoloau to be acting as both a party fundraiser and AHA chief is now in question.
The current Finance Director of the NSW Liberal Party (managing donations) has explained how money from banned developers was ‘washed’. Money would be collected by e.g. (Energy Minister) Chris Hartcher’s office, passed to Paul Nicolaou (as a Liberal party fundraiser) then into the Free Enterprise Foundation, the accused ‘washing’ entity. Paul Nicolaou’s involvement is pertinent to tourism since alcohol-focused businesses are banned donors.
ICAC: NSW Liberal Party finance director Simon McInnes thought donations from banned donors were ‘completely legal’
NSW Liberal Party finance director Simon McInnes has told the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) he knew donations from the Free Enterprise Foundation were being partly bankrolled by banned donors, but he believed it was legal.
Mr McInnes has admitted that in 2010, he knew banned donors were giving money to the Free Enterprise Foundation, a discretionary trust, which ICAC has heard was one of the biggest donors to the Liberal Party’s 2011 state election campaign.
ICAC’s counsel assisting Geoffrey Watson SC has alleged the foundation was being used as a front to wash illegal donations from developers, who are banned from contributing to NSW state election campaigns.
Mr McInnes said he had a discussion with the then head of the NSW Liberal Party’s fundraising arm, The Millennium Forum’s Paul Nicolaou, and “expressed some discomfort” with the way the Free Enterprise Foundation was being used.
He said, “My understanding is [some of] these donations were made or solicited or collected by someone in [former energy minister] Chris Hartcher’s office and then were then passed on to Paul Nicolaou, then the Free Enterprise Foundation.”
Mr McInnes said Mr Nicolaou told him “something along the lines of ‘what Hartcher wants, Hartcher gets'”.
Mr McInnes said he also raised his concerns with the then Liberal Party state director Mark Neeham, but not with anyone else in the party.
Mr McInnes said despite his discomfort, he believed the donations were legal.
“I believed the donations that were made to the Free Enterprise foundation, if they happened to find their way back to the Liberal Party, were completely legal,” he said.
But he later conceded the donations were “not within the spirit of the law”.
Arthur Sinodinos was present during discussions
The NSW Liberal Party’s former chief fundraiser, Mr Nicolaou has told ICAC that federal Senator Arthur Sinodinos was present when he suggested banned donors could contribute to the party through the Free Enterprise Foundation.
Mr Nicolaou has acknowledged that the ban on property developers donating to NSW campaigns was a big blow to the Liberal Party and the state division’s finance committee had discussions about the impact on its fundraising ability.
He said he suggested that banned donors could contribute through the Free Enterprise Foundation, which he was familiar with as an entity that was used when donors wanted to remain anonymous.
Mr Nicolaou said Senator Sinodinos and Mr Neeham were among those present when he made the suggestion.
He said he assumed that the party would then go and get legal advice to make sure the process was above board.
The inquiry continues.
Why AHA NSW wanted me as boss: Nicolaou
From theshout.com.au (pub industry publication), 18th Jan 2012
It’s understandable that the Australian Hotels Association NSW wanted Paul Nicolaou as its new CEO, the former Liberal Party fundraiser told TheShout exclusively this week.
“Well look, it’s a Liberal Government. Let’s be up front and honest, it’s no good beating around the bush – you’re not going to put a person with Labor ties in as the CEO,” he said.
“I’m very keen to work with the Premier and the Minister [For Tourism and Hospitality] George Souris to see that the industry is looked after,” he said.
“And also I’ll be working with the Labor Party Opposition because I think it’s important that the industry stands on its own two feet… representing the needs of the industry, whether they’re Labor or Liberal or Calathumpian.”
Born and raised in Sydney, Nicolaou (pictured) said he enjoys frequenting the city’s pubs, and he already knows a lot of the industry’s key players from his previous role.
“I know a lot of the publicans, because of the fact that they’ve been involved in supporting the [Liberal] Party over so many years. And because I’ve been involved in the political process, I understand a lot of the issues that the publicans are facing.”
He stressed that it’s early days in the job, but he will be trying to speak with as many of the association’s members as possible once he’s settled in.
“This is day six, however I’ve had a lot of publicans who’ve rung me [already],” he said.
“We’ve got four roving field officers who are out there, speaking to our members, so I’m very keen to go out with those people… and meet as many publicans as possible and deal with their issues and concerns and try to look at ways of expanding their businesses,” he said.
What’s on the agenda for 2012?
Nicolaou said the priority issues for the association this year will be ensuring NSW publicans aren’t adversely impacted by the new Three Strikes regime and pushing for reform of planning regulations, as well as Federal industrial relations reform.
And he will of course be continuing the organisation’s spirited fight against Tasmanian Independent MP Andrew Wilkie’s proposal to introduce mandatory pre-commitment on gaming machines.
“We have an obligation, not only to our members but the community at large to say that this proposed change is ill-conceived, firstly. Secondly, it’s not going to work, and it’s going to cost billions of dollars to implement. It’s also going to cost jobs,” he said.
“It’s alright for Wilkie to be sitting down in Tasmania and drawing the strings on the government and saying, ‘this is what should happen and if you don’t do it, then we’ll pull our support’.”
“It’s ridiculous, the guy hasn’t been out at the coalface to see what it’s all about,” said Nicolaou.
As for whether he will be continuing the work of former CEO Sally Fielke, or making the role his own, Nicolaou said, “a bit of both”.
“Sally Fielke’s done a great job with [President] Scott Leach and the Executive, so I want to build on that,” he said.
“We’ve got an opportunity now to capitalise on the success and really take the industry forward and take the association forward.”
Look out for an extended interview with Paul Nicolaou in the March edition of Australian Hotelier magazine.
Putting the pub on the itinerary
TTN, 7th Sep 2014: The below article is a profile completed by SMH’s Sean Nicholls in 2014, before Paul Nicolaou was being investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
From smh.com.au, 10th March 2012
Less than six weeks into his new job, Paul Nicolaou is beginning to understand that, contrary to popular belief, there is indeed such a thing as a free lunch.
At the end of a meal at one of Sydney’s most spectacular locations – the Opera Bar at the foot of the Sydney Opera House – a request for the bill is met with a polite message from a waiter that payment will not be necessary. ”Oh, this happens all the time,” Nicolaou says, slightly embarrassed. The truth is, to be feted in this manner is quite a turnaround.
As chairman of the NSW Liberal Party’s chief fundraising body, the Millennium Forum, Nicolaou spent 10 years wining and dining some of the country’s most influential corporate figures, convincing them to part with millions of dollars in political donations.
Now, a push by a group of Sydney publicans has led to his appointment as chief executive of the NSW division of the Australian Hotels Association, one of the state’s most vocal and influential lobby groups. In hotel circles at least, Nicolaou has morphed from professional host to celebrated guest.
The job is far more than a string of free lunches (for the record, the Herald insisted on paying the bill), coming as it does at a time of heightened concern about alcohol-related violence, with a focus on pubs.
The NSW government’s new anti-violence regime for licensed venues, ”three strikes and you’re out”, began on January 1, threatening publicans with the loss of their licence for repeated breaches of the Liquor Act.
In the wake of a scandal last year over the alleged bashing of a patron by security guards at the Sydney city venue Ivy, the Premier, Barry O’Farrell, has declared he is ready to give police whatever extra powers they request to combat the violence, including possible further restrictions on opening hours of hotels.
And the federal government’s proposed poker machine reforms have introduced financial uncertainty to an industry increasingly reliant on gambling revenue.
With the livelihoods of many of the AHA’s 2000 NSW members riding on his appointment, it is an intimidating environment for any new chief executive. Nicolaou, armed with a marketing degree and a thick file of business, political and community contacts, is determined to fashion a new image for the hotels industry.
”One of the roles I will be playing is to get the message across that we are part of the tourism and hospitality industry,” he says. ”We’re employing 75,000 people.
”We’re giving something in the vicinity of $25 million out to community groups, whether they be sporting, hospitals or other charitable organisations. It’s really getting the message across that we are there to work with business, government and the community as our way of helping grow NSW.”
Hence Nicolaou’s choice of venue for today’s lunch. At an outdoor table on a sunny late summer afternoon, the Opera Bar, with its views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, reverberates with the foreign accents Nicolaou wants associated with his industry. A nearby table of Americans is competing with the squawking of seagulls and a stiff breeze blowing off the water.
Dressed neatly in a navy suit, regulation white shirt and blue tie, Nicolaou chooses a selection of appetisers to share – chilli salt squid, grilled chorizo, mixed olives and yam crisps – followed by a main course of baked barramundi paired with a glass of a Venetian pinot grigio.
Nicolaou, who lives in Lane Cove with his wife, Sophia, an optometrist, and children Peter, 13, and Constance, 10, has a colourful and inspiring story to tell.
His parents, Coula and Costa, grew up in Egypt, to where their families had migrated from Greece in search of opportunity.
But in adulthood they left Egypt, in different years, as nationalist policies became threatening to non-Arabs. ”So, literally, my parents came here [in the 1950s] with the luggage they had, with no money whatsoever,” he recalls his parents telling him.
Coula found work as a seamstress in Rockdale, while Costa, who died last year, began on the General Motors-Holden’s assembly line at Pagewood. They met at the Greek-Egyptian club in Sydney.
Nicolaou was born in 1964, the year the Beatles toured Australia. His mother tells him he was named after Paul McCartney. He has a younger brother, Anthony.
From high school at Waverley College, Nicolaou went on to the University of NSW where he earned an arts degree majoring in industrial relations and economics and a masters of commerce in marketing and organisational behaviour.
It was there, during his student leadership days and a three-year stint as president of the Greek society, he discovered a talent for fundraising as he set out to find the $200,000 required to establish modern Greek studies at the university. ”I had functions after functions. We had Greek taverna nights, we had annual balls where I had Nick Greiner and Bob Carr attend,” he recalls.
After university, Nicolaou applied for and won the position of fundraising manager at the Children’s Hospital at Camperdown and then at Westmead when the hospital relocated. In his late 20s, he found himself managing a team raising $12 million a year.
By 2002, Nicolaou’s political ambitions had well and truly matured. He won preselection as the Liberal candidate for the state seat of Ryde but was beaten at the 2003 election by Labor’s John Watkins, who went on to become deputy premier.
”That was a difficult election because we changed leader from Kerry Chikarovski to John Brogden and it was the time when we were sending troops over to Iraq,” he says. ”I was smack bang in the seat of Bennelong [held by then prime minister John Howard]. There were a lot of people who were a bit angry with the prime minister because of that.”
But from the loss came an unexpected opportunity when the then state director of the NSW Liberals, Scott Morrison, approached him to take over the Millennium Forum job from Michael Yabsley, citing his fundraising prowess.
”I said, ‘Scott, this is a big call. Anyone can raise money when you’ve got children and a children’s hospital and you can market that. But politicians? Come on!”’ He agreed to do the job for six months and stayed for a decade.
In a move that raised some eyebrows in political circles, last year Nicolaou stepped straight from raising money for the Liberals through the Millennium Forum to lobbying the new Liberal government as managing director of Premier State, owned by leading Liberal and former minister Michael Photios.
The move came nine months after the NSW AHA donated almost $600,000 to the NSW Coalition before last year’s state election, beating the January 1 deadline that banned political donations from hotels.
The NSW AHA is a client of Premier State, but Nicolaou says he did not deal with them as a lobbyist and the association had nothing to do with him being chosen as chief executive.
However, he does not shy away from the fact his political connections would have been attractive to the association’s membership. As an example, Nicolaou has known the Hospitality Minister, George Souris, whose portfolio includes liquor and gaming, for almost 20 years. ”He’s seen as a leader in the Greek community and I’m involved in the Greek community,” Nicolaou says.
”And we’ve always got on famously because of our heritage. [But] I know I can’t rock up and say, ‘Listen, I want this, minister, I want that.’ He ain’t going to give it to me. It will never happen.”
So what does the association want from the new government? Mainly consultation over policy changes that affect the industry.
”For example, if they banned smoking in al fresco dining areas, there’s a lot of people coming into Australia from China and other Asian countries who smoke,” he says. ”That’s going to have an impact.”
(The week after our lunch, the Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, announced smoking bans for outdoor areas such as bus stops and playgrounds but exempted outdoor dining at pubs and clubs until 2015.)
The hotels association will be closely monitoring the effect of the ”three strikes” regime. ”That’s going to be reviewed in due course,” Nicolaou says. ”We want to be part of that review process.”
Meanwhile he has been in talks with the NSW AHA president, Scott Leach, about the first plank of a strategy to overhaul the image of the state’s pubs.
It involves introducing a voluntary accreditation process for hotels that would be loosely modelled on those available for professionals such as accountants.
”You’ve got to remember that a local hotelier is going to make sure that their pub works,” Nicolaou says.
”But sometimes now, with some of these pubs that have been bought out by Woolworths and Coles and the multi-hoteliers, you’re going to have a manager there who’s going to just run the pub like it’s a nine-to-five job.”
”I’m not saying facilities aren’t well managed,” he stresses.
”It’s another thing just to make sure we bring some belief in the community that we’re doing our bit to control the issues that are perceived to be associated with hotels.”