In the wake of highly damaging ICAC revelations, a number of high-profile Liberal scalps have been claimed and Labor is poised to re-take seats lost in the 2011 election, writes NSW political correspondent Alex Mitchell.
The New South Wales Coalition’s big parliamentary majority, built on sweeping victories in the Hunter Valley and the Central Coast in the 2011 election, is going up in flames at the Independent Commission Against Corruption. At the next election in eight months’ time, the Labor Party is poised to re-take all the seats it lost — Newcastle, Charlestown, Swansea, Maitland, Wyong and The Entrance.
When ICAC resumed today, Newcastle Liberal MP Tim Owen began testifying about the financial support he secretly received to defeat Labor’s Jodi McKay and capture the Labor stronghold for the first time in almost 100 years. Owen was a Liberal pin-up at the last election: a former deputy commander of Australian forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the senior RAAF officer entered Parliament triumphantly as a war hero.
In the wake of highly damaging ICAC revelations, he has quit the Parliamentary Liberal Party, resigned his position on Parliament’s ICAC oversight committee and announced he will not re-contest Newcastle where local ALP councillor Tim Crakanthorp is favoured to take over.
Owen must be regretting the overblown commitments of his inaugural speech in front of the NSW Legislative Assembly on May 25, 2011:
“As the member for Newcastle, I will serve my constituents with passion, conviction and an unwavering commitment to their best interests. Before the election I told the people of Newcastle that if elected I would conduct myself in an open and transparent manner — a promise I intend to keep.”
Allegations of dodgy donations from developers and the use of front companies to launder campaign funds have claimed a number of scalps among high-profile Liberals, including former mineral resources and central coast minister Chris Hartcher and ex-police minister Mike Gallacher, who have both stood down from cabinet.
When Labor was slung unceremoniously out of the Hunter and Central Coast in March 2011, it was the party’s worst result since 1904. Rusted-on Laborites shifted en masse to the Liberals cutting Labor’s primary vote to a catastrophic 25.6%. The swing to the Tories in Charlestown was 21.9%, and it was 17.3% in The Entrance. Yet both these seats are now in Labor’s sights as a result of the ICAC revelations about Liberal shonky campaign donations.
Jodie Harrison, popular mayor of Lake Macquarie, is ALP candidate for Charlestown and looks unbeatable. The sitting MP, veterinarian Andrew Cornwell, has resigned from the Liberal Party and announced he will not re-contest the seat. The ALP is hoping for success in Swansea as well, where the candidate is Yasmin Catley, wife of former Swansea MP Robert Coombs. She is also a former staffer with federal Climate Change Minister Greg Combet.
Developers in the Hunter and Central Coast have been corrupting local and state government politicians for decades. Both sides of politics have been on the take, but before ICAC the Liberals were paragons of discretion. Greens MP John Kaye today called for Liberal MPs mired in the scandal to quit Parliament immediately and not wait until the election in March.
“There are now seven government MPs who are dead weights to the restoration of public confidence in the state’s integrity,” he said. “They also continue to draw a salary from the public purse. The repair can only begin today if those who were deeply involved in the developer dollars scandal leave, not just their party, but their public offices,” Kaye added.