Nationals MP at centre of fresh koala policy controversy
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Nationals MP at centre of fresh koala policy controversy

One of the NSW Nationals' most vocal opponents of the koala planning policy relayed concerns about the divisive issue to Planning Minister Rob Stokes on behalf of political donors connected to a major property venture.

Nationals MP for Myall Lakes Stephen Bromhead wrote to Mr Stokes in February, passing on an email from Raymond Stack, the chairman of Stacks Finance, concerning the state’s new koala planning policy.

NSW Nationals member for Myall Lakes Stephen Bromhead (right) and party leader John Barilaro.

NSW Nationals member for Myall Lakes Stephen Bromhead (right) and party leader John Barilaro.Credit:Louise Kennerley

The letter to Mr Bromhead from Mr Stack on February 24, released to NSW Parliament on Wednesday, included correspondence from two other engineering and land development companies raising concerns with the state’s koala planning policy.

"Is there anything that can be done to delay it 'till there is proper consultation," Mr Stack wrote to Mr Bromhead.

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Labor MP Kate Washington asked Mr Stokes during Thursday’s question time whether it was appropriate for Mr Bromhead to be making representations on behalf of Mr Stack, whom she described as a "property developer" and a "major Coalition donor".

Mr Stokes said he did not accept the assertions contained in Ms Washington’s question. He said it was appropriate for MPs to make representations on behalf of their constituents.

Planning Minister Rob Stokes told Parliament it is appropriate for MPs to make representations on behalf of their constituents.

Planning Minister Rob Stokes told Parliament it is appropriate for MPs to make representations on behalf of their constituents.Credit:Peter Braig

"After all, that’s what members of Parliament do," Mr Stokes said.

It follows confirmation from Mr Stokes' office that the only stakeholder correspondence he received from Nationals leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro about the policy was from developer and former Newcastle mayor Jeff McCloy.

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The Stack family are donors to the Liberal and Nationals parties at a state and federal level.

Mr Stack is also one of several directors of Hocana Pty Ltd, which owns land set to become part of the multimillion-dollar Taree development Figtrees on the Manning.

He made a $100,000 donation to the federal Liberal Party ahead of the 2016 election, according to electoral commission disclosure records.

His son Paul, who is also a director of Hocana, made a $4000 donation to the NSW Nationals in 2018.

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"So far as I know that donation was a perfectly legitimate donation and I reported it as required," Paul Stack said.

Other members of the Stack family have made donations to the Nationals, including a $2000 donation in 2015 to the party, labelled "Stephen Bromhead election campaign".

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by the Stack family.

Raymond Stack said the Taree development would not be impacted by the koala State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP), given it was in the middle of the suburb of Chatham.

"I have heard and read criticism of the koala policy but I haven't read the legislation myself so I don't think I will make any comment," Mr Stack told the Herald this week.

The koala SEPP has triggered an intense fight within the Coalition that resulted in Mr Barilaro threatening to move his party to the crossbench. He took four weeks' personal leave last week.

The Nationals claimed the policy would directly affect how farmers use their land, but Liberal MPs contend that the junior Coalition partner is more concerned about its impact on developers.

Mr Bromhead, the parliamentary secretary for regional transport, last week said the policy was designed to "make city-centric lawmakers feel good".

He confirmed he sent an email to Mr Stokes in February, and said he would continue to advocate on behalf of his constituents.

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"All letters received by my electorate office are forwarded to the relevant Minister for their information and consideration," Mr Bromhead said in a statement.

"The correspondence to which you are referring was no different."

In his email to Mr Stokes, which was released to the upper house under an order of Parliament, Mr Bromhead asked the Planning Minister to "review the matters raised" in the correspondence from Mr Stack and the other businesses.

Mr Bromhead said the Figtrees on the Manning development had also received federal funding, and was a partnership between the local council, private investors and the government.

"It will bring significant investment into Taree which desperately needs a boost to its economy," Mr Bromhead said.

Mr Bromhead was photographed with Mr Stack and eight others at an announcement about the Figtrees on the Manning development in March 2019.

The other businesses featured in the email chain Mr Bromhead forwarded to the Planning Minister were Hopkins Consulting and Land Dynamics Australia.

The NSW Nationals were contacted for comment.

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