ICAC FALLOUT: Rally challenges mandate to cut railway

Rail supporters protest truncation - MP for Perth Alannah MacTiernan addresses Save Our Rail protesters. Picture: Ryan Osland]

Rail supporters protest truncation - MP for Perth Alannah MacTiernan addresses Save Our Rail protesters. Picture: Ryan Osland]

INSPIRED by recent revelations at the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the fight against the cutting of the heavy rail line in Newcastle returned to the streets yesterday.

About 100 protesters came from across the Hunter, Sydney and even Perth, waving placards and warning of the demise of the city.

Save Our Rail members were joined by  EcoTransit Sydney representatives, as well as federal Labor member for Perth Alannah MacTiernan for the rally, which began at Newcastle station.

The ICAC fallout, which has brought down two Hunter Liberal MPs, as well as Newcastle’s lord mayor, Jeff McCloy, fuelled their fire.

‘‘What’s coming out of ICAC is that any mandate to truncate Newcastle’s rail line that the Baird  government might have claimed was based on electoral fraud,’’ said Gavin Gatenby, co-convener of EcoTransit Sydney.

‘‘If that mandate ever existed, it has now evaporated. The vast majority of Novocastrians and Hunter Valley residents want the line to stay.’’

Scone architect Bev Atkinson agreed. A railway campaigner for 25 years, she said the cut would affect commuters from Scone, Dungog, Telarah and Muswellbrook, but consultation regarding the decision had not included them.

‘‘We need ICAC to change everything for us,’’ Ms Atkinson said.

‘‘We need it to buy us time to change this decision or it will mean the death of the city.’’

Ms MacTiernan, formerly the West Australian infrastructure minister who oversaw the state’s 72-kilometre rail line project from Perth to Mandurah, said the NSW government should  reverse its rail cut decision. The government should also work towards a faster service between Newcastle and Sydney. 

NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said the state was committed to the project and to revitalising Newcastle.

Mike Baird in the Hunter to win back trust

By MATT CARR Aug. 19, 2014, 9:02 a.m.

NSW Premier Mike Baird.

NSW Premier Mike Baird.

The NSW premier said he was "not under the illusion this can be fixed overnight" after Liberal MPs Tim Owen and Andrew Cornwell quit parliament, Swansea MP Garry Edwards moved to the crossbench and Newcastle lord mayor Jeff McCloy resigned in the wake of the corruption inquiry.

But he repeatedly paid tribute to Newcastle as a "fantastic place" and urging the Hunter's residents to take strength from that.

"I think that Newcastle has got its mojo back," Mr Baird said.

"[In the past few years] we showed what you could do if you take it seriously."

"My strong sense is this city and region will come out stronger."

Mr Baird plans to walk Hunter Street this morning to discuss a politically catastrophic few weeks with Novacastrians directly.

He said the visit was the first step to recovery for a party that had "forefeited the right" to contest the Charlestown and Newcastle byelections and would work to regain trust.

"I'm going to walk the streets, talk to people and businesses and hear from them first-hand how they're feeling," Mr Baird said.

"My sense is people on the ground are hurting."

Mr Baird said he said he felt the same frustration as people across the Hunter over what ICAC had heard, and also frustrated it would overshadow his government's achievements in the Hunter since the 2011 election.

"We are excited with what we are delivering but ultimately we have let the people down," Mr Baird said.

"We are doing everything possible to rebuild the trust between this community and the party."

Mr Baird said Jeff McCloy had "done the right thing" by stepping down, and thanked him for his decision.

"I think he's done it with the interests of the city at heart," Mr Baird said.

The Premier also deflected questions about Prime Minister Tony Abbott's comments over ICAC, 

Mr Abbott on Monday blamed confusion over the former NSW Labor government’s ban on political donations from property developers for some of the Liberal Party’s woes at the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

The Prime Minister also delcared it "right" that parties have to seek money from the public.

Mr Baird said he and the Prime Minister were united in a commitment to electoral reform but said the state's laws governing political donations were clear.

"The donation bans are the donation bans, there's no confusion there," Mr Baird said.

Newcastle, Charlestown byelection details revealed

By MATT CARR Aug. 18, 2014, 10:39 a.m.

TWO Hunter electorates will head to the polls in October to replace disgraced former MPs Andrew Cornwell and Tim Owen.

Speaker of the NSW Legislative Assembly Shelley Hancock announced on Monday the byelections will be held October 25.

The writ will be issued on October 6 and nominations will close midday October 9.

Strike - 10th Liberal MP skittled at inquiry

By MICHELLE HARRIS Aug. 14, 2014, 11:10 p.m.

TWO Hunter electorates will head to the polls in October to replace disgraced former MPs Andrew Cornwell and Tim Owen.

Speaker of the NSW Legislative Assembly Shelley Hancock announced on Monday the byelections will be held October 25.

The writ will be issued on October 6 and nominations will close midday October 9.

SWANSEA MP Garry Edwards joined the swelling ranks of the NSW crossbenches yesterday after being named at a corruption inquiry as the third Hunter MP to receive cash from Jeff McCloy for the 2011 state election campaign.

He also became the 10th Liberal MP – including the former federal assistant treasurer Arthur Sinodinos – to be sidelined due to fallout from the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s inquiry into illegal political donations and slush funds. The toll also includes Andrew Cornwell and Tim Owen, who were forced to resign as MPs for Charlestown and Newcastle on Tuesday, triggering byelections in the seats.

Mr McCloy was still refusing to stand down as lord mayor of Newcastle last night after his much anticipated appearance at the inquiry during the day, which followed the admissions of Mr Cornwell and Mr Owen that he had given each of them $10,000 cash for their campaigns despite laws banning developers from making political donations.

It wasn’t long into his evidence before another Hunter MP was in the ICAC’s firing line for allegedly accepting yet more money given by Mr McCloy.

‘‘Now, apart from Mr Owen and Mr Cornwell, which other politicians did you give cash to?’’ counsel assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson SC asked.

‘‘Um, the guy from Swansea came to see me,’’ Mr McCloy replied.

Within a few hours of the words leaving the lord mayor’s mouth, the MP had announced he would step aside from the parliamentary Liberal Party.

‘‘I look forward to an early opportunity to clear my name,’’ Mr Edwards said in a statement.

 Mr McCloy told the inquiry that so many people, namely politicians, came to him for money that he sometimes felt like a ‘‘walking ATM’’.

‘‘It’s a dangerous reputation to have,’’ Commissioner Megan Latham suggested.

‘‘A walking ATM machine? Being generous?’’ Mr McCloy queried.

‘‘Yes,’’ Commissioner Latham said.

‘‘Yeah, I suppose so,’’ Mr McCloy agreed.

He said Mr Edwards had rung him from the Belmont 16 Footers Club then came to his Belmont home, where they discussed ‘‘something about the election’’, but exactly what he could not recall.

‘‘The end result is I put my hand in my wallet and gave him $1500 for his campaign,’’ Mr McCloy said.

He later said the amount could have been more, up to $1800 or whatever cash was in his wallet at the time. He also gave two stories as to what it was for – initially ‘‘raffle tickets’’ and then just for Mr Edwards’s campaign.

Mr Cornwell, in his evidence last week, had told the inquiry that former police minister and senior Hunter Liberal Mike Gallacher MLC had suggested to him during the election campaign that he could sell some ‘‘raffle tickets’’ to developer Hilton Grugeon.

Mr McCloy said yesterday he had heard a couple of times of people talking about raffle tickets but he didn’t buy any.

But he confirmed Mr Watson’s allegation that ‘‘we’ve got some information that the member for Swansea, Garry Edwards, received an envelope of cash from you’’.

‘‘Yeah, that’s correct,’’ he said.

Only about a week ago, the inquiry was told ICAC investigators had looked into Mr Edwards’s campaign finances and found no irregularities.

The only mention of Mr Edwards’s campaign funding prior to Mr McCloy’s evidence had been in an email tendered to the inquiry that Mr Owen’s campaign manager, Hugh Thomson, had sent to Mr Cornwell and Mr Owen in mid-2011, drawing their attention to Mr Edwards’s public criticisms of a Buildev proposal for a marina development at Swansea.

‘‘Not sure if you guys feel up to reminding Garry who paid for the lion’s share of his campaign,’’ Mr Thomson wrote to the then MPs’ parliamentary email accounts.

‘‘Picking a fight with Buildev is not a smart move, particularly if he hasn’t engaged with them privately.’’

Mr Edwards had also been expected to give evidence that former minister Chris Hartcher, who was also forced to move to the crossbench last year, contacted him to seek his support for Buildev’s proposal but he refused.

Mr McCloy  said he had not given money to Mr Gallacher and could not recall giving money to either Port Stephens Liberal MP Craig Baumann or Maitland Liberal MP Robyn Parker but added: ‘‘I have a nagging thing in the back of my head about some CDs for her [Ms Parker’s] husband.  Was that so, I am not sure ... and if I did pay for some CDs for her husband in what form I’m not sure,’’ Mr McCloy said.

Ms Parker said she could not comment before giving evidence today.

Earlier, the inquiry heard Mr Grugeon, during a private examination with the ICAC in July, had denied supporting Tim Owen’s campaign for the seat of Newcastle with $10,000 cash and that he had paid $10,000 to radio host Luke Grant, who worked on Mr Owen’s campaign, because he was down on his luck and had lost his job.

But yesterday morning Mr Grugeon told the inquiry he paid the money for Mr Grant’s work because Mr Owen’s campaign manager Hugh Thomson had assured him it was legal and would not be considered a political donation, which Mr Grugeon knew would be illegal for him to make.

‘‘How is that not a donation or gift? Let’s use the word ‘gift’ to the campaign?’’ Commissioner Latham challenged.

‘‘I would have to think about that, that’s an interesting proposition,’’ Mr Grugeon responded.

So far the ICAC has claimed the resignations from Parliament of Mr Cornwell and Mr Owen, Mr Hartcher’s and Mr Gallacher’s resignations from cabinet, and caused the two former ministers to move to the crossbench, along with Central Coast MPs Darren Webber and Chris Spence, and MLC Marie Ficarra.

Barry O’Farrell quit as Premier over misleading evidence he gave to the ICAC over a gift  bottle of Grange but remains in the Liberal Party.

Mr Sinodinos, a senator from NSW, stepped aside as federal assistant federal treasurer in March  over his dealings with controversial company, Australian Water Holdings.

After Mr Edwards’s announcement, Premier Mike Baird told Parliament the MP deserved due process at the commission. Mr Baird said it would be ‘‘very tough’’ for the party to retain Charlestown and Newcastle.

THE ICAC, THE HUNTER, THE CENTRAL COAST

Tim Owen, Newcastle: Resigned in disgrace this week when it was revealed he’d taken donations from developers Jeff McCloy and Hilton Grugeon. Only three years ago Owen was the golden boy of the Liberal Party’s sweeping victory through the Hunter, but he was found to have been lying about his knowledge and involvement with the illegal donations scheme.

Andrew Cornwell, Charlestown: The other MP who fell on his sword after appearing at ICAC. Admitted receiving $10 thousand in the back of McCloy’s Bentley, and a similar sum from Grugeon for a painting even the artist didn’t rate that highly. Told ICAC the painting was supposed to be a gift, but Grugeon yesterday disputed his evidence, instead calling it ‘‘patronage’’. 

Craig Baumann, Port Stephens MP: Named by Owen staffer Hugh Thompson as someone who may have ‘‘facilitated’’ a plan for Buildev to illegally pay the salary of Owen’s campaign staffer, Josh Hodges. Hasn’t been named as a witness and isn’t accused by ICAC of breaching any laws. Has had a lawyer at the recent hearings.

Garry Edwards, Swansea MP: Resigned from the Parliamentary Liberal Party yesterday. Had escaped the magnifiying glass until McCloy named him as another MP he’d given money to, this time $1500. Released a statement saying he was looking forward to clearing his name.

Darren Webber, Wyong MP: Resigned to the crossbenches and announced in June that he won’t recontest his seat at next year’s election. It’s alleged he solicited and received money from developers during the 2011 election campaign through a slush fund known as EightbyFive.

Robyn Parker, Maitland MP: Hasn’t been implicated, but is due to give evidence at the hearings today. McCloy said yesterday he had a ‘‘nagging thing in the back of my head about come CDs for her husband’’ but had no records of donating to her. 

Chris Spence, The Entrance MP: Like Webber, Spence moved to the crossbenches and won’t re-contest his seat. It’s also alleged he benefited from the alleged slush fund that took money from banned developers.

Chris Hartcher, Terrigal MP: The former resources and energy minister is accused of being behind a plan to create the EightbyFive slushfund. He’s also accused of using his influence to favour Liberal donors, including the Nathan Tinkler-owned Buildev. He resigned from the ministry and is another now sitting on the crowded crossbench.

Mike Gallacher MLC, former police minister: Gallacher has been implicated in a scheme to take illegal donations from Buildev. Owen staffer Hugh Thompson claims he was ‘‘orchestrating’’ the payments to fund Owen’s campaign. But he’s yet to give evidence to the commission and has denied the claims.

Bob Baldwin, Paterson MP: The only federal MP to be drawn into the inquiry so far, our man in Canberra wrote to NSW Coalition MPs, including Chris Hartcher and Mike Gallacher to ‘‘implore’’ them to support Nathan Tinkler’s proposed $1 billion coal-loader. He’s received donations from Buildev in the past, which he’s allowed to do under Federal law. May be called to answer questions by the Commission. 

ICAC’S OTHER LIBERAL CASUALTIES

   ARTHUR SINODINOS (NSW Senator)

- Steps down in March as federal assistant treasurer over his dealings with controversial company, Australian Water Holdings.

   BARRY O’FARRELL (Ku-ring-gai)

- Resigns as NSW premier on April 16 after misleading ICAC over a $3000 bottle of wine.

- Not accused of corruption.

   -   MARIE FICARRA (upper house MP)

- Allegedly solicited banned donation.

- Moves to the cross benches in April.

MP Garry Edwards stands aside after Jeff McCloy told ICAC of donation

By MICHAEL MCGOWAN Aug. 14, 2014, 2 p.m.

GARRY Edwards, Liberal MP for Swansea, has stood aside from the Parliamentary Liberal Party.

In a statement this afternoon he wrote:

‘‘I look forward to an early opportunity to clear my name.’’

‘‘In the meantime, I have decided to stand aside from the Parliamentary Liberal Party.

‘‘I have informed the Premier of my decision and he has accepted it.’’

It comes after Newcastle Lord Mayor Jeff McCloy today told ICAC he had donated at least $1500 to Mr Edwards.

More to come

Tim Owen may face criminal charges after admitting he lied

By MICHAELA WHITBOURN and KATE McCLYMONT Aug. 13, 2014, 2 p.m.

DEPARTURE: Tim Owen leaves the ICAC hearing. Picture: Wolter Peters

DEPARTURE: Tim Owen leaves the ICAC hearing. Picture: Wolter Peters

DISGRACED former Liberal MP Tim Owen opened himself up to potential criminal charges after he admitted he lied to a corruption inquiry about returning an envelope stuffed with $10,000 in cash to property developer and now Newcastle mayor Jeff McCloy.

Mr Owen, who quit parliament on Tuesday after the sensational admission, told the Independent Commission Against Corruption he was "new on the block" and he didn't know if it was accepted practice for illegal donations to be "just quietly given to you and you don’t do anything about it".

"I didn’t have a good sense, well is [it] de rigueur, is this the way things happened in politics," he said.

"And I could see that there was a lot of money, you know ... sloshing around in the campaign and I used to wonder where the cash came from and I just sort of kept my nose to myself."

The former member for Newcastle told the ICAC on Monday that Mr McCloy handed over a "thin envelope" containing an unspecified number of $100 notes before the March 2011 election.

He claimed he "dumped" the money in Mr McCloy's letterbox a day later with a note to the effect of "no thanks" because "it just wasn't a particularly nice look".

But he admitted on Tuesday the envelope contained $10,000 and he took the money, which was "rolled into [his] campaign".

Property developers had been banned from making political donations in NSW since 2009, and it was a criminal offence for a politician to take the money if they were aware at the time of "the facts that result in the act being unlawful".

Mr Owen, a retired air commodore in the Royal Australian Air Force, said he met Mr McCloy on Sunday and the two men "shook hands" on a deal to fabricate their evidence. He said the plan was to say the envelope contained $2000 and Mr Owen had returned it a day later.

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It was an offence punishable by up to five years in jail or a $22,000 fine to give false evidence to the ICAC.

Mr McCloy was expected to claim he told Mr Owen to tell the truth, but the MP was reluctant because he feared his wife would "divorce" him for lying to her about the money.

"You must have realised when a property developer, somebody like Jeff McCloy, is passing over a bundle of money to you that he’s doing [so] to try and buy your influence?" counsel assisting the commission, Geoffrey Watson, SC, said.

"I have a lot of time for Jeff McCloy," Mr Owen replied. "I think he’s a good man."

Mr Owen also admitted he met Mr McCloy in May this year, after giving evidence in secret to the corruption watchdog.

It was an offence punishable by up to 12 months in jail or a $55,000 fine to tell anyone about a private hearing of the commission, in breach of a non-publication order.

Mr Owen said he wanted to come clean on Monday about the money because "I can't lie to the commission".

"I wanted to actually put it out there to say this is what had happened but I didn’t get the chance," he said.

MP resignations force byelections

By MICHELLE HARRIS Aug. 12, 2014, 10:45 p.m.

Tim Owen and Andrew Cornwell in November 2013. Pic: Dean Osland

Tim Owen and Andrew Cornwell in November 2013. Pic: Dean Osland

NEWCASTLE and Charlestown voters will head to the polls twice in less than eight months with byelections to be held in both seats before the general state election in March next year.

It follows the resignations  yesterday  of disgraced MPs Andrew Cornwell and Tim Owen and the official vacating of their seats in State Parliament, in the wake of their extraordinary evidence to a corruption inquiry that they each accepted prohibited donations from property developers, including cash in envelopes from Jeff McCloy, for their 2011 campaigns.

In a dramatic turn, Mr Owen confessed yesterday he had lied in evidence given the day before to the Independent Commission Against Corruption and had in fact spent $10,000 from Mr McCloy on his pitch for the seat, rather than returning it via Mr McCloy’s letterbox as he had claimed.

Premier Mike Baird then publicly urged both men to quit, saying he was ‘‘appalled’’ at the revelations – ‘‘I can’t begin to put words on how I feel in relation to this’’ – and that voters of the Hunter ‘‘deserve better’’.

‘‘What we have seen, it is clear – the people of the Hunter, the people of NSW, have been betrayed,’’ Mr Baird said.

He and Local Government Minister Paul Toole added their voices to calls for Mr McCloy to stand aside as lord mayor of Newcastle.

He said it was his, the government’s and the Liberal Party’s responsibility now to try to repair the damage Mr Cornwell and Mr Owen had done and to ‘‘put candidates in the field’’.

‘‘I can understand the people in the Hunter being very angry, very dismayed and betrayed – I feel it. We have to work very hard to win back their trust, there’s no doubt about it,’’ he said.

But the Premier stood by government decisions about Newcastle’s city centre urban redevelopment, despite suggestions from Labor of the need for a moratorium.

‘‘Decisions made in relation to the urban renewal of Newcastle are decisions that are going to set that city up for a generation,’’ Mr Baird said.

‘‘We stand by them, we continue to effect them and that’s what the people of Newcastle want to see. Indeed, that’s what the people across this state want to see.’’

Mr Owen had returned to the ICAC yesterday morning for cross-examination, following his evidence given on Monday that Mr McCloy had given him cash in an envelope at a meeting in Hunter Street with the words ‘‘there’s a little bit to help your campaign’’.

Within a few days, he ‘‘dumped’’ the money in Mr McCloy’s letterbox because ‘‘it just wasn’t a particularly nice look’’, Mr Owen told the inquiry on Monday.

But under questioning yesterday by Mr McCloy’s barrister, the tale quickly and spectacularly unravelled.

‘‘... You were asked, ‘You just put it back in the letterbox of Mr McCloy’s, is that right?’ and you said ‘Yep’ – that answer was false wasn’t it?’’ Ian Faulkner SC challenged.

‘‘Yes, it was,’’ Mr Owen replied.

Lying to ICAC carries a possible five-year jail term.

Mr Owen added yesterday he sought to make a statement on Monday to retract some of his evidence but had been denied the opportunity to come clean.

‘‘What I wanted to say is I can’t lie to the commission  ’cause it’s not appropriate,’’ he said.

He then acknowledged he and Mr McCloy had met on Sunday to discuss the cash and claimed they shook hands in agreement that he would give false evidence to the inquiry that he had received only $2000 – not the actual $10,000 – from Mr McCloy before giving the money back.

‘‘I was just concerned that he was going to get into trouble and I was going to get into trouble,’’ Mr Owen said.

But he denied suggestions from Mr Faulkner that he told Mr McCloy he couldn’t admit to taking the money because he had sworn that he hadn’t done so ‘‘on a stack of bibles’’ to his wife, Charlotte Thaarup-Owen, and ‘‘my wife will divorce me’’.

‘‘I didn’t say that to him, no,’’ Mr Owen said.

Mr Faulkner put to Mr Owen that the lord mayor had urged him to tell the truth even though he could not recall giving that amount. 

But on that point, Mr Owen was emphatic: ‘‘Jeff knew very much indeed what he’d done’’.

 Mr Owen went on to tell the inquiry, ‘‘I have a lot of time for Jeff McCloy’’ and ‘‘I think he’s a good man’’. 

He said he didn’t think Mr McCloy had wanted to buy influence with him because he as a backbencher couldn’t do anything to benefit Mr McCloy.

‘‘Um, he does a lot of good work around the town. And I think he just wanted to see a change,’’ Mr Owen said.

Mr Owen agreed with Mr Faulkner that he had met with Mr McCloy at his home about three times in the past three to four weeks.

He agreed, when it was put to him by Mr Faulkner, that Newcastle City Council general manager ‘‘Tim Goldthorpe’’ was present when he arrived for one of those meetings. The council’s general manager is Ken Gouldthorp.

Mr Owen also admitted he had discussed with Mr McCloy how Mr Cornwell had recently told him he believed the ICAC had ‘‘overheard’’ a conversation between Mr Cornwell and his wife about the $10,000 Mr McCloy had given him.

The revelations followed admissions on Monday that Mr Owen also knew from at least mid-2011 that Newcastle developer Buildev had illegally backed his election campaign, and that he was aware during the campaign itself of support from developers Keith Stronach and Bill Saddington but thought their money had been accepted legally by his trusted campaign manager, Hugh Thomson, a lawyer.

Mr Cornwell had admitted last week to the inquiry that $10,000 cash Mr McCloy gave him during a meeting in his Bentley was spent on his campaign, and that he also used $10,120 developer Hilton Grugeon gave him for a painting to pay his tax bill.

Labor called  yesterday  for the government to stand Mr McCloy aside, arguing it had the power to do so. 

But Mr Baird told Parliament a formal charge or finding against Mr McCloy was needed before it could intervene. Confirmation of the MPs’ departures came just before question time.

‘‘I inform the House that today I received letters from Andrew Stuart Cornwell and Timothy Francis Owen resigning their seats as members for the electoral districts of Charlestown and Newcastle,’’ Speaker Shelley Hancock said. A motion was carried to declare the seats vacant. 

The resignations headed off an attempt by the Greens and Labor to expel Mr Cornwell from Parliament on the basis he had admitted accepting what he agreed was an attempted bribe.

However, the government refused to back the motion, with Mr Baird declaring he would not be party to ‘‘a stunt’’.

‘‘Give me a formal finding or a formal charge and Parliament can consider that,’’ Mr Baird said.

Dates for the byelections will be determined by the Speaker, in consultation with the Electoral Commission.

Tim Owen, Andrew Cornwell resign from parliament

By MICHELLE HARRIS, MICHAELA WHITBOURN and KATE McCLYMONT Aug. 12, 2014, 11:03 a.m.

THE seats of Newcastle and Charlestown have been declared vacant following the resignations of Tim Owen and Andrew Cornwell this afternoon.

The vacancies were declared before the start of question time in State Parliament.

It follows the two MPs' recent evidence at the Independent Commission Against Corruption that they received money from property developers, in breach of electoral funding laws, and calls this afternoon from Premier Mike Baird for the pair to quit.

The resignations cap an astounding day in Hunter politics that have dramatically altered the region's political landscape. 

In an extraordinary development on Tuesday morning Mr Owen, a suspended Liberal MP, confessed to a corruption inquiry that he lied about returning an envelope stuffed with $10,000 in cash to property developer and now Newcastle lord mayor Jeff McCloy.

Mr Owen admitted at the Independent Commission Against Corruption that he met Mr McCloy on Sunday and the two men "shook hands" on a plan to lie under oath about the money.

Premier Mike Baird had urged Newcastle MP Tim Owen and  Charlestown MP Andrew Cornwell to resign from parliament, saying Hunter voters have been "betrayed" by revelations at the ICAC.

Mr Baird and local government minister Paul Toole have also called on Jeff McCloy to stand aside as Mayor of Newcastle.

Mr Baird said he was "appalled" by the evidence aired, but he stands by his government’s plans for Newcastle’s city centre.

Earlier report

Newcastle MP Tim Owen has admitted lying to the ICAC in his evidence on Monday that he returned cash Jeff McCloy gave him in an envelope.

Mr Owen said this morning he accepted the $10,000 from Mr McCloy and spent it on his campaign, retracting evidence he gave to the inquiry on Monday that he dumped it in Mr McCloy’s mailbox within a few days.

"I wanted to make a statement...I actually have received money from Mr McCloy and that it was rolled into my campaign," he said.

He said it "pains me" to say it but he couldn’t maintain the lie.

Mr Owen said he and Mr McCloy met on Sunday to discuss the cash and whether Mr McCloy should resign as Newcastle Lord Mayor.

Mr Owen claimed they agreed he would admit to receiving only $2000 and that he gave the money back.

"I was just concerned that he was going to get into trouble and I was going to get into trouble," he said.

But Mr McCloy’s barrister, Ian Faulkner SC, put to Mr Owen that Mr McCloy had instead urged him to tell the truth even though Mr McCloy couldn’t recall giving the $10,000.

Mr Faulkner claimed Mr Owen told Mr McCloy he couldn’t admit to taking the money because he had "sworn on a stack of bibles" he hadn’t taken the money to his wife, Charlotte Thaarup-Owen, who he feared would divorce him.

Mr Owen denied this, and said "Jeff knew very much what he’d done".

 Tim Owen gave back McCloy's bag of cash - after a few days

By JASON GORDON Aug. 11, 2014, 11:02 p.m.

TIM Owen on Monday became the second Hunter MP in less than a week to tell a corruption inquiry that he was handed an envelope full of cash by property developer Jeff McCloy,  who is now the Newcastle lord mayor.

But unlike  Charlestown MP Andrew Cornwell, Mr Owen said he didn’t keep the cash for his 2011 election campaign,   dumping it in Mr McCloy’s mailbox a few days later.

‘‘It just wasn’t a particularly nice look,’’ Mr Owen, the Member for Newcastle, told the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Monday.

Pushing the envelope and giving it back

THREE months ago Tim Owen told the people of Newcastle he knew nothing about funding irregularities with his 2011 election campaign and was ‘‘appalled’’ that it appeared ‘‘highly likely’’ banned donors had helped back him into office.

He felt ‘‘undermined and very sad’’, he said when he announced in May he would not recontest his seat.

But yesterday, it was a different story, when the Newcastle MP became the Hunter’s second state representative in less than a week to admit to the Independent Commission Against Corruption that Jeff McCloy, now also Newcastle lord mayor, gave him cash in an envelope for his 2011 election campaign despite being banned as a property developer from contributing.

Mr Owen said he gave the money back to Mr McCloy a few days later.

And Mr Owen acknowledged he knew from at least mid-2011 that his campaign had been illegally funded by Newcastle development company Buildev – but he continued to speak with its directors on issues including Buildev part-owner Nathan Tinkler’s $1billion coal-loader proposal for Mayfield.

Mr Owen, who was forced to move to the crossbench last week when Operation Spicer’s hearings resumed, told the inquiry he was a ‘‘naive’’ candidate who had trusted senior Liberal MLC and future police minister Mike Gallacher and his campaign manager Hugh Thomson, a lawyer, to ensure all donations accepted were legal.

They had instructed him ‘‘we will handle the money’’ and ‘‘to keep my nose out of it’’.

Mr Owen told how he went to  meet Mr McCloy for the first time during the campaign in Hunter Street. They were near a car, which may have been Mr McCloy’s Bentley, when the property developer ‘‘just handed over a thin envelope’’.

‘‘What no foreplay? What, ‘G’day, I’m Jeff McCloy’ and just handed you an envelope?’’ counsel assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson SC asked.

‘‘I can’t really remember ... I said, ‘Well what’s in it?’,’’ Mr Owen replied.

He said Mr McCloy told him ‘‘there’s a little bit to help your campaign ... cash for your workers.’’

He didn’t count the money but the envelope held hundred-dollar notes. Mr Owen took it home and ‘‘I must admit I thought ‘hmm, what do I do with this’.’’

Within a few days, he ‘‘dumped’’ the money in Mr McCloy’s letterbox because ‘‘it just wasn’t a particularly nice look’’.

‘‘I think I just put a little note on it that said ‘no thanks’,’’ Mr Owen said.

It follows evidence Charlestown MP Andrew Cornwell gave to the inquiry last week that Mr McCloy gave him $10,000 cash in an envelope during a meeting in the businessman’s Bentley. 

Mr Owen also admitted  yesterday that he met with Mr McCloy at a coffee shop on the day Mr Owen was called in for a compulsory examination at the ICAC.

The Newcastle MP said they had discussed Newcastle’s art gallery project and Mr Owen had asked whether he’d ‘‘done anything idiotic’’ for the campaign.

‘‘Well you must have known he’d done one idiotic thing, which was offer the candidate an envelope of cash,’’ Mr Watson said. 

‘‘That’s correct but anything else idiotic, no. I don’t know, it was pretty much a conversation of what else have you done, if he’d done anything else?’’ Mr Owen said.

He said Mr McCloy did not tell him of anything else. But Mr Watson said investigators had evidence Mr McCloy had provided a further $10,000 in cash to Mr Thomson for the campaign, and both Mr McCloy and Hilton Grugeon had paid $10,000 each to support radio host Luke Grant’s work as campaign media manager.

Asked if he agreed Mr McCloy was trying to buy influence, Mr Owen said Mr McCloy was a ‘‘generous’’ guy but ‘‘I agree, it does look bad’’.

However, he said there was nothing he as state MP had any influence over that would have benefited Mr McCloy, and described Mr McCloy and Mr Grugeon as ‘‘good men in terms of what I see they have done for the city’’.

In relation to Buildev, Mr Owen told the inquiry he knew the company was a banned developer but didn’t think it was illegal at the time that they paid Josh Hodges, a member of his campaign team, on a ‘‘consultancy’’ style basis – an arrangement he learnt of in about December 2010.

But in about mid 2011, he became aware Buildev had more significantly, and illegally, backed his campaign, after he and Mr Cornwell received an email from Mr Thomson urging them to tell Swansea MP Garry Edwards to stop criticising a Buildev Lake Macquarie marina proposal.

The emailed suggested Mr Edwards’ campaign had been funded by Buildev – but the ICAC has heard there is no evidence of that.

 Mr Owen said he was ‘‘gutted’’ and wondered ‘‘what the hell’’ had gone on with his campaign.

He was also advised  around that time that Buildev weren’t paying invoices that had been charged back to the Newcastle development company via companies used to provide other legitimate services to the campaign.

Mr Owen said he had a ‘‘difficult’’ conversation with Mr Thomson.

But he still helped chase up the money from Buildev, and continued to meet with them about their coal-loader plan.

‘‘Did you not think ‘it’s time to call it a day, I shouldn’t be meeting with them’?’’ Mr Watson asked.

‘‘It’s a fair point,’’ Mr Owen replied.

‘‘... It’s something that post-election I’ve regretted. All I can say is I never cut them any favours.’’

 With the benefit of hindsight, he was ‘‘sorry’’.

Mr Owen acknowledged he had helped bring on board property developer and friend Keith Stronach as a campaign donor but said he thought Mr Thomson had arranged for the money to be provided legally. 

He also knew of Bill Saddington giving money but did not know he had property developments.

And he was told during the campaign by Mr Thomson that his boss, David Mingay, the founder of major contractor and civil engineering company Daracon, was backing him.

As the Newcastle Herald recently revealed, Mr Mingay’s companies gave $20,000 towards Mr Owen’s campaign.

Mr Owen told the inquiry he said he did not realise during the campaign that Mr Mingay could be considered a developer.

Bob Baldwin may be asked about spruiking coal-loader

By MICHELLE HARRIS Aug. 11, 2014, 10:30 p.m.

FEDERAL Paterson MP Bob Baldwin may be asked to explain why he wrote  to ‘‘implore’’ the NSW Coalition government to support Nathan Tinkler’s proposed coal-loader.

 Documents  with the Independent Commission Against Corruption show Mr Baldwin drafted a letter to then-state ministers Chris Hartcher, Mike Gallacher and Duncan Gay in April 2011 urging  in-principle support to the $1 billion coal-loader. “I implore the New South Wales government to do everything it can to see this project come to fruition,” he wrote.

Mr Baldwin then sent it to Buildev director David Sharpe, who replied, “Thanks Bob letter looks good”.

Giving evidence yesterday, Newcastle state MP Tim Owen said   he did not know how Mr Baldwin came to write the letter.

Counsel assisting the ICAC Geoffrey Watson described Mr Baldwin as ‘‘really spruiking the case’’   and ‘‘in effect [giving] Buildev a right to review the terms of his letter’’.

‘‘The process looks crook doesn’t it?’’ he put to Mr Owen, who replied, ‘‘My sense is that they were relatively close and obviously he’s a strong supporter of the project. But you’d have to ask Mr Baldwin that.’’ 

‘‘I can promise we will,’’ Mr Watson said. The inquiry continues. 

Tim Owen admits illegal donations helped fund campaign

By MICHELLE HARRIS Aug. 11, 2014, 12:47 p.m.

Newcastle MP Tim Owen reading a statement to media at a news conference in May  where he announced that he would not be contesting the next election due stating recurring health issues and recent Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) revelations.

Newcastle MP Tim Owen reading a statement to media at a news conference in May where he announced that he would not be contesting the next election due stating recurring health issues and recent Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) revelations.

Newcastle MP Tim Owen has told a corruption inquiry he learnt Buildev was supporting his campaign in December 2010 or early 2011- shortly after he was preselected as the Liberal Party candidate.

And he has admitted discussing with Keith Stronach the property developer’s interest in financially backing his campaign, despite a ban on developers making political donations.

But Mr Owen has told the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Monday that he trusted senior Liberal and MLC Mike Gallacher, then the shadow police minister, and his campaign manager Hugh Thomson, a lawyer, to ensure the donations were made legally, after they told him "we will handle the money".

He said he referred people interested in donating to his campaign to Mr Thomson or Mr Gallacher to check it was "above board".

Mr Owen told the inquiry he knew Buildev was a banned developer but didn’t think it was illegal at the time that they paid Josh Hodges, a member of his campaign, on a "consultancy" style  basis.

He was aware of that arrangement from about December 2010 or early 2011, he said.

However, by mid 2011, he became aware Buildev had more significantly, and illegally, backed his campaign, after he and Charlestown MP Andrew Cornwell received an email from Mr Thomson urging them to tell Swansea MP Garry Edwards to stop criticising a Buildev Lake Macquarie marina proposal.

The emailed suggested Mr Edwards’ campaign had been funded by Buildev - but the ICAC has heard there is no evidence that occurred.

Mr Owen said he was "gutted" to get the email and wondered "what the hell" had gone on with his own campaign.

Mr Thomson also advised him around that time that Buildev weren’t paying invoices that had been charged back to the Newcastle development company via companies used to provide other legitimate services to the campaign.

Mr Owen said he had a "difficult" conversation  – later described as a "shouting match"– with Mr Thomson.

But despite being "gutted", he helped chase up the money from Buildev when Mr Thomson told him he was getting "abusive calls".

Text messages and emails also show Mr Owen continued to speak and meet with Buildev about matters including their proposed coal loader.

"Did you not think ’it’s time to call it a day, I shouldn’t be meeting with them’?" Counsel assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson SC asked.

"It’s a fair point," Mr Owen replied.

"... It’s something that post-election I’ve regretted. All I can say is I never cut them any favours."

Mr Owen said he was a "novice" candidate and "naive" and "if you looked at that today no way in hell would you do that", referring to Buildev’s funding.

Mr Owen is still giving evidence on Monday.

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