The 2019 Liberal fundraiser was for a small group of Victoria’s rich and powerful including Melbourne airport CEO Lyell Strambi and Liberal Party state president, Robert Clark, neither of whom is accused of wrongdoing.
Mr Woodman has been accused in Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission hearings of doling out more than $1.2 million in corrupt payments to local councillors and buying political influence by pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into Labor and Liberal party coffers.
Ms Wreford, his representative and go-between for Liberal Party politicians, admitted in IBAC hearings last November that she had personally delivered tens of thousands of dollars of cash stuffed into envelopes to a City of Casey councillor, and conceded the payments were bribes to get favourable planning decisions.
Both Mr Woodman and Ms Wreford had had their homes raided by anti-corruption investigators a few weeks before the Flower Drum dinner.
The dinner, in a private room, was organised by Liberal fundraising arm Enterprise Victoria, whose dealings with Mr Woodman have also has been examined by IBAC as part of the Casey inquiry.
This month IBAC heard how Mr Woodman had paid $70,000 in 2019 for top-level membership of Enterprise Victoria, which included access to events such as the Flower Drum dinner.
The Age revealed in 2019 that, at the time, Mr Woodman and Ms Wreford were seeking support from the Morrison government for a bid to transform low-value farm and grasslands owned by Malaysian tile mogul John Chua at Little River west of Melbourne into a satellite city.
The revelations about the Flower Drum gathering raise fresh questions about the probity of such behind-closed-door events, and how someone who has been raided by IBAC could attend.
It is unlikely that Mr Frydenberg knew about the raids, or that Mr Woodman was represented at the fundraiser. However the Treasurer did not respond to questions, referring them instead to the Victorian Liberal Party, which also did not answer queries about the dinner.
Ms Wreford also attended a separate fundraiser in May 2019 for Mr Hunt’s re-election campaign for the seat of Flinders, where she donated $5000, the money coming from Mr Woodman. The function was held at the private Toorak home of Liberal supporter.
In a letter obtained by The Age and written soon after IBAC’s Casey hearings began, Flinders electorate chairman Peter Rawlings wrote to the party noting that Mr Hunt had “deep concerns” about Ms Wreford’s contribution to his campaign.
“Given the current (IBAC) investigations surrounding the donor it would be totally inappropriate to simply return the funds,” Mr Rawlings wrote. “Mr Hunt has requested that the total amount of the donation be forwarded to Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA) as the peak body of the suicide prevention sector in Australia.”
A spokesman said neither Mr Hunt nor his office had any knowledge or record of Mr Hunt having attended a fundraising function personally with Mr Woodman since Mr Hunt became a Minister.
“We would note that there are hundreds of people at party events and the full guest list is not necessarily known to ministers who attend, so it is not possible to be categorical about the presence of all guests at major events,” the spokesman said.
Mr Hunt’s direction to his party about the donation from Mr Woodman via Ms Wreford has raised difficult questions about the remaining hundreds of thousands of dollars Mr Woodman has poured into both major parties over the last decade, including almost $160,000 support of Labor at the 2018 state election.
Liberal Party Victorian director Sam McQuestin said of Mr Woodman’s donations: “The contributions were received in good faith by the party at the time.” Labor’s state secretary Chris Ford said the party would not follow Mr Hunt’s lead and donate the funds to charity.
This month IBAC heard how Enterprise Victoria chief Amy Sullivan had offered Mr Woodman meetings with party leaders Michael O’Brien and Robert Clark as a lure to him to sign up a high level membership. Both say the meeting never took place.
In a secretly recorded telephone conversation from February last year, Ms Sullivan also told Mr Woodman about a “loophole” to circumvent Victoria’s tough new donations laws.
IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich, QC, described the recording as evidence that money buys “privileged access” to politicians, and in November Mr Redlich described political donations as a “subtle form of corruption”.
Royce Millar is an investigative journalist at The Age with a special interest in public policy and government decision-making.