Could someone please start writing the movie script based on the last state election campaign for Newcastle? According to the evidence before the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing this morning, it involved massive alleged illegality intended to disguise banned donations, a Richo-like attitude of “whatever it takes” and a campaign so tainted that the winner, the Liberals’ Tim Owen, has agreed to stand down.
ICAC’s Operation Spicer resumed this morning after a three-month break, but the corruption investigators have not been on holiday. In his opening address, Geoffrey Watson SC laid out a long list of witnesses, most of whom have agreed to assist the inquiry in return for immunity against prosecution. In common parlance, they have “rolled over” and will now be free to point the finger at their bosses. For ICAC groupies, the prospect of seeing a gold-class list of high flyers — coal baron and former billionaire Nathan Tinkler, former Labor powerbrokers Joe Tripodi and Eric Roozendaal, and Newcastle mayor Jeff McCloy — in the box should ensure a full house.
In a nutshell, former billionaire Nathan Tinkler and his company Buildev wanted to build a coal loader on the Mayfield site at the Newcastle port. The problem was that sitting Labor member Jodi McKay (pictured above) opposed the proposal. Newcastle was a marginal seat, and the local Liberal Party saw an opportunity to use the funds of Tinkler and others in their campaign to unseat her. Electoral donations from property developers have been prohibited in NSW since 2009.
On top of this, ICAC has graphic evidence of what Watson described this morning as a “rare example of bipartisan support”, where Joe Tripodi and Eric Roozendaal appear to have joined forces with Buildev to unseat a member of their own party.
One of the people to have “rolled over” is Tripodi’s former friend Vince Fedele. Watson said this morning, in connection with Tripodi, that “attempting to influence a person to give false evidence is a serious offence”.
McCloy, a property developer, has already admitted making an illegal $10,000 donation; this morning we heard that the money was handed over in cash, in a brown paper bag, to a Liberal Party officeholder who was sitting in the front seat of the mayor’s Bentley.
Tripodi was removed as NSW minister for ports in 2009 and announced in 2010 that he would be standing down at the next election. Watson said this morning that according to emails dating from a time when he was still a sitting MP, Tripodi was assisting Buildev in its campaign to unseat McKay, and on top of that, giving them advice about property developments. The former associate of disgraced MP Eddie Obeid has already been found corrupt in a previous hearing.
The anti-McKay forces are alleged to have created three false community organisations to disseminate misleading information about her. One of the people behind them was the local owner of a carpet emporium, so the code for making illegal donations was “buying a carpet”, and the usual price for a carpet was $50,000.
Liberal Party campaign director Rod Bosman will be giving evidence this afternoon. Bosman, the son of the former MP for St George, Leonard Bosman, is a Liberal Party apparatchik who managed the campaigns for Bennelong in 2007 and 2010. When the Liberal Party won the seat back, he was rewarded with oversight of the Hunter Valley and Central Coast marginal seat campaigns in 2011. The qualified rugby referee and owner of a memorabilia business called Bosman Memorabilia works full time as chief fundraiser at an elite Sydney boys’ school in Sydney’s inner west.
His evidence about the donations, which were ammunition in the ongoing war between the dominant moderate faction of the Liberal Party and the hard-right fiefdom of Chris Hartcher on the central coast, will be fascinating. There will be a great deal of evidence about Hartcher’s “Taliban” faction and its attempts to get around the electoral funding laws. Stand by for some fireworks.