I told you things were about to get interesting.
Anyway it all came to a head this week; following the ICAC hearings into illegal donations, the Liberal MPs for the neighbouring NSW state seats of Newcastle and Charlestown resigned from parliament after finally admitting they took illegal donations from Newcastle developer (and now Lord Mayor) Jeff McCloy during the 2011 state election campaign. Some have referred to this as a shock. Well for Andrew Cornwell, maybe (pinned as one of the rising stars of the NSW Liberals, he now has such a bright future behind him). But what about Tim Owen, disgraced former member for Newcastle? Now that it's been conclusively established he's been lying through his teeth every step of the way, including lying directly to the commission on Monday (an offence carrying the possibility of jail time), is there anyone who didn't think there was something just a bit off all along about "one term (HA!)" Tim?
When allegations of impropriety were first raised in May, Mr Owen tearfully fronted a press conference in Newcastle to announce that yes, it seemed there had been illegal donations made to his campaign, but honestly, he'd had no idea. With hands cleaner than Pontius Pilate, he'd serve out the rest of his term, but would not, as a matter of honour, seek re-election in 2015.
As I wrote at the time, are being asked to believe that illegal donors secretly gave the money to Tim Owen's campaign and never said a word to him about it at the time or ever contacted him regarding influence or any other matter in the intervening three years? I didn't buy it, and for good reason; it was a bunch of bullshit all along. Owen took money from McCloy (whilst sitting in McCloy's parked Bentley on Hunter Street), last Monday told ICAC he gave it back, then on Tuesday admitted he'd kept the money for his campaign. So he's gone, and good riddance.
But the caravan of disbelief was only just getting steam. Yesterday, Premier Mike Baird published an open letter to the voters of Newcastle, apologising for how we have been treated by our elected representatives - for he, himself feels let down - but reminding us of the Liberals' excellent record in the Hunter, unlike the dastardly Labor party.
Excuse me? No, Premier Baird, if you've been caught out, apologise without sticking the boot into the other party, spare us the "yes, but..." hahoo. When eight of your MPs have now been caught out at ICAC, it is not a case of a few bad apples; there is a systemic problem which you need to take responsibility for. And your excellent record in the Hunter? Like ripping up the rail line nearly everyone wants to keep? Selling the Port of Newcastle and funnelling the money into Sydney instead of hospitals, transport and schools here? Appointing a Minister for the Hunter from Sydney's North Shore whose acquaintance to the region prior to her promotion was apparently a wine tour or somesuch? And you think this is not taking us for granted? Really, Mr Baird. You are taking the piss.
Then just to put the rotten cherry on the rotten sundae, just when you couldn't believe they were expecting us to swallow anymore of their BS, today it is announced that the Liberal party will not field candidates at the 25 October bi-election for the seats of Newcastle and Charlestown as...an act of atonement. WTAFF? Atonement?! "We are so sorry, we're forgoing electoral funding just to make it all better?". No. No. Does anyone actually buy this? They're not fielding candidates because they don't want the protest vote, don't want the swing against them, don't want Antony Green applying the Hunter swing to projections for NSW. And cause they're cowards, frankly. They don't want to send candidates out on the hustings, knowing the abuse from the enraged electorate they'd face (and frankly, I don't blame those undeserving individuals for not wanting to face that, either), and they're too cowardly to face what the results would mean for the party as a whole.
There are a few who defend the Liberals in all this...Owen wasn't actually influenced, so it's okay, at least the Liberals are doing something...but most Novocastrians are as furious as I probably come across in this post. My bruised hometown deserves so much better, and even as we likely settle down for another long uninterrupted spate of Labor representation I wish that if we were not to be forgotten, it was for something other than this.
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