ICAC and How To Buy Newcastle

03 May 2014
As the ICAC hearings into government corruption in NSW continue, you have to wonder how much longer new Premier Mike Baird's government can remain tenable. Yes, we have fixed parliamentary terms in NSW, but as member after minister from the former premier on down "stands aside in light of these allegations" as they so delicately put it, surely he is obligated to call fresh elections to let the public have their say on a parliament that seems rotten on both sides? (Rarely have I been so proud to be a Green, the only party untainted by the whiff of corruption).

This is awkward

Funnily enough, the man who had so much to say about ICAC before last year's federal election has gone silent, denying it is his role to comment on a state matter and angrily refusing journalists' questions about it (one almost expected to hear Abbott to tell journalists to put their manners back in). Still, Abbott has enough problems of his own to worry about right now and maybe it would be churlish to kick a man whilst he's down.

Perhaps some of the most explosive evidence came during the week, when former state MP for Newcastle, Jodi McKay, claimed that after she refused to take a bribe from mining billionaire Nathan Tinkler to allow the development of the a coal loader on Newcastle Harbour, Tinkler joined with Labor MPs Eric Roozendal and Joe Tripodi on a smear campaign that saw her lose the 2011 election. These Labor stalwarts would rather a Liberal MP won the seat than one of their own whom they couldn't control; which is of course what happened, with Liberal MP Tim Owen winning the seat in an historic first. I would be very interested to hear what Mr Owen has to say about what he was offered ahead of that election, but funnily enough, he's been nowhere to be seen in recent days, not even when Premier Baird last week announced the sale of the port of Newcastle for $1.75 billion, of which the city will see less than a third in compensation. As someone on Twitter said, it often feels like things are done to Newcastle rather than for us.

But whilst I'm sure One Term Tim will be able to shed plenty of light on Nathan Tinkler's machinations in 2011, what I'm really interested in is hearing about our Lord Mayor, Jeff McCloy. My questions here would be not so much about any involvement in corruption that would see him leave office, but how the hell he was allowed to take that office in the first place. In NSW, developers are banned from making political donations. There are ways around it, but the law is there for good reason. McCloy, one of the largest developers in Newcastle (if you've ridden in a lift in Newcastle, it's a McCloy...even now he is developing several inner city sites), unable to buy political influence, simply bought himself political office. It begs belief that whilst developers can't make donations, they can hold actual office, but so it is. In 2012, Jeff McCloy, who doesn't even live in the Newcastle local government area, was able to use his considerable financial resources to buy the election, with no political experience, spending huge amounts of money on advertising and promotion, running on a platform of "you'll be lucky to have me", and a weary and broke city, for reasons I still can't quite gather, fell for it. McCloy has held office ever since, enriching the city by closing pools, spending $30,000 washing chalk rainbows off the footpath, sacking the Art Gallery director and ruining a redevelopment of the gallery that was already costed and paid for, and - it almost goes without saying - approving almost any project his developer friends suggest, including, if you can believe it, 20 story buildings in the heritage part of Newcastle CBD.

As if having an enormous penis on the horizon wasn't bad enough.

We may not have to wait too long. McCloy's name has already been mentioned in relation to ICAC - and it simply defies belief that Tinkler, having successfully swayed the 2011 state election, would 15 months later have so lost interest in politics and Newcastle that he would take no action ahead of the Mayoral election. I'm in no way suggesting McCloy is guilty of anything other than buffoonery and at a time as such allegations are made he has a democratic right to respond. I'm just saying, you know, things are about to get interesting.


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