Police fine minister $1000 for trip
Embattled Arts Minister Don Harwin has been served with a penalty infringement notice for $1000, one day after he was exposed hosting a guest in his Central Coast holiday home despite his principal place of residence being in Elizabeth Bay.
It came as The Daily Telegraph discovered Mr Harwin fiercely argued against Cabinet plans to restrict holiday home stays in the regions in a bid to contain the NSW coronavirus outbreak - without mentioning at the meeting that he advertised his own Pearl Beach getaway for $515-a-night stays.
Police arrived at Mr Harwin's apartment in Sydney's inner-east yesterday where he had returned after being exposed in this paper for fleeing to the Central Coast and hosting young Liberal Party guest Geoffrey Winters despite the Berejiklian government urging people not to travel to the regions.
Mr Harwin was issued a $1000 fine last night - a humiliation for Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who only yesterday morning said her senior minister had "technically … stuck to the rules" but that she was disappointed regardless.
Mr Harwin did not stick to the rules, police decided, and he was fined for the act of returning to the coast after making visits to Sydney instead of going to his principal place of residence in Elizabeth Bay.
Pressure will mount for Ms Berejiklian to sack her minister, who she yesterday stood by saying "I do want to stress that technically he was there before the restrictions, well before the restrictions were in place".
Police will interview Mr Winters, 31, who returned from the UK on March 17 and has been staying with Mr Harwin at his beach house.
From March 15, international arrivals were required to self-isolate for 14 days only with people they usually live with.
Mr Harwin told The Daily Telegraph he had no guests "coming and going" at the Pearl Beach property.
However new photos also reveal that Mr Harwin was shopping in Sydney's east for clothes on March 22 - more than a week after he claimed he relocated to his Pearl Beach holiday home for "clear air".
Mr Harwin's spokesman yesterday would not provide the minister's e-tag records for the period in question to confirm he had not been unnecessarily travelling despite statewide coronavirus stay-at-home orders.
However the spokesman confirmed that the minister relocated to his $1.3 million beach house on March 13, but then made two trips to Sydney before he was sprung.
The first was for five days, from March 19-24, for senior leadership meetings and parliament, including one shopping trip to Westfield Eastgardens. The second was on April 1 for a medical appointment.
The first trip included a Cabinet meeting, where ministers discussed increasing restrictions on travel to the regions, including the use of short-term holiday rentals.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro spoke up in the meeting and declared he owned an Airbnb property and thus had a conflict of interest.
Five ministers present at the meeting could not recall Mr Harwin declaring a conflict, despite an online advertisement existing for his Pearl Beach property for $515 a night.
Mr Harwin conceded to The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday that the property was usually a rental, but due to the bushfires and COVID-19 there had not been any rentals.
Despite this interest, Mr Harwin used the Cabinet meeting to forcefully argue against stricter restrictions on holiday rentals and regional travel.
"There was a heated exchange between (Planning Minister Rob) Stokes and Harwin when Stokes was pushing a crackdown," one source in the meeting said.
"It really surprised me, I couldn't understand why. Now I understand why he was so strident."
Five ministers have confirmed the nature of the exchange.
The government settled on a general position that people should not travel to the regions.
Asked yesterday why he did not declare his personal interest in the conversation, Mr Harwin's spokesman said he did not comment on Cabinet meetings.
Several of Mr Harwin's colleagues have privately expressed fury at the minister.
One noted that during the virus crisis, there had been numerous occasions when protocol required two ministers to attend executive committee meetings in person to sign off on public orders.
"Don lives walking distance from the city, he could have easily shown up - instead he's relaxing on the coast forcing his colleagues to come from further," the minister said.
Police Minister Mick Fuller made strong comments on Thursday night, saying no one was above the law.
"No one individual or corporation is above these laws - anyone suspected of breaching the orders will be investigated and if a breach is detected, they will be dealt with in accordance with the Act," Mr Fuller said in a statement, adding he urged anyone with information on breaches to contact police.
Originally published as Police fine minister $1000 for Central Coast trip