FRIENDS: Hilton Grugeon and Paterson MP Bob Baldwin.PATERSON MP Bob Baldwin sent letters to the Premier and senior ministers about workplace safety prosecutions that were denying defendants “natural justice” but says the lobbying wasn’t intended to benefit only Liberal donor Hilton Grugeon, who was then being prosecuted.
The state government is under pressure to explain why charges against Mr Grugeon and fellow Hunter Quarries owner Graham Chevalley were withdrawn in 2012, over the death of worker Darren Smith whose truck rolled at the Karuah quarry in 2005.
The government changed workplace safety laws in 2011, bringing them in line with federal laws from 2012.
Mr Baldwin wrote in late 2011 to then attorney-general Greg Smith, with copies sent to then premier Barry O’Farrell, finance and services minister Greg Pearce, police minister Mike Gallacher, resources minister Chris Hartcher, Port Stephens MP Craig Baumann, Maitland MP Robyn Parker and Newcastle MP Tim Owen.
The government released the letter yesterday following questions from Labor, showing that Mr Baldwin sought a judicial review of whether outstanding prosecutions under the old laws should proceed.
“I am aware of defendants suffering severe hardship and personal distress in defending matters where they have been denied natural justice without a presumption of innocence,” the federal MP wrote.
Asked who the defendants were, Mr Baldwin said yesterday he was not just advocating for Mr Grugeon.
“I told Hilton at the time ‘I am not writing this letter to get you off, I am writing this letter so that the legislation applies equally’,” he said.
Mr Baldwin, who described Mr Grugeon as a close friend, said “I didn’t even get the courtesy of a reply” from the state government.
Mr Grugeon was the target of a recent corruption inquiry over alleged secret political donations to Liberal state campaigns, but was already a prominent Liberal donor. Mr Hartcher and Mr Gallacher were also targets of the inquiry.
Labor MP Michael Daley said the government had to explain why the charges were dropped: “A man has died leaving two young children behind.
“All of a sudden they just walked away from it. There are still serious questions for this government to answer,” Mr Daley said.
Mr Grugeon said he too had not received an explanation for the charges being withdrawn other than being told it was not in the public interest for the prosecution to continue.
But he believed it was due to “trumped up evidence” the prosecution sought to rely on.
He said that would be exposed as part of an appeal against the conviction of the company Hunter Quarries.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for Resources Minister Anthony Roberts said “the decision to withdraw proceedings was taken by the Division of Resources and Energy following receipt of legal advice from the Crown Solicitor”.