Tim Owen, ICAC and Where To Now For Newcastle

13 May 2014
After being conspicuous by his absence for weeks, yesterday state MP for Newcastle, Tim Owen, announced in a statement to the media that he would not be contesting the 2015 election after learning that banned donors contributed to his 2011 election campaign. Mr Owen claimed he was unaware of these donations, describing himself as shocked and dismayed; he then left without answering questions.

Now, political candidates receive all sorts of finance, and a major party candidate like Mr Owen no doubt had a campaign manager who focused on such issues so he could concentrate on campaigning and thus may not be privy to the origin of ever dollar coming in. But what we are being asked to believe here is that Buildev, having openly offered a bribe to Labor candidate Jodi McKay with the aim of winning approval for a coal loader to be built in Newcastle Harbour, then 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 the loader or any other matter in the intervening three years.

I'm sorry. I don't buy it. Mr Owen must know it sounds dodgy as all get out, as he has so far refused all media interviews. Whatever happened to openness and accountability? Whatever happened to remembering who pays your salary (and will continue to do so for the next ten months, lumbered with an MP who has almost completely lost public confidence). Myself and many others are furious and cannot see how Mr Owen's position is tenable.

Meanwhile, talk has turned to who will be the Liberal candidate for the 2015 election, with the name of Ms Jaimie Abbott being often mentioned. Whenever I write about Ms Abbott I get attacked by her supporters, and have been accused of being obsessed with Ms Abbott. Well, let me describe for you a typical day during her campaign last year:

Hear ad for Ms Abbott on radio. Form letter from Ms Abbott in mailbox. Walk to bus stop, pass two coreflutes for Ms Abbott. Get bus to uni, pass posters for Ms Abbott every few hundred metres. Newspaper at uni library with interviews, ads for Ms Abbott. Get bus to shopping centre, pass more Abbott posters. At shopping centre, supporters are running a stall promoting Ms Abbott...and the shopping centre isn't even in the Newcastle electorate. Get bus home, pass more posters...you get the drift. There's only so many weeks one can endure this without going slightly insane, and the saturation campaign if anything worked against her (on election day, one of Ms Abbott's staff at the voting booth actually removed some of the advertising bollards, saying there were just too many, and I thought, you know, it is way too late for that).

But the main question I've had is, who paid for all this? I worked in advertising long enough to know a campaign of that magnitude must run into the high hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions (an electoral mail out would cost at least $100,000; my husband and I received six between us). As well as all the advertising there was the t shirts, balloons and in the international students paid to hand out how to vote cards on election day. Some of the funding no doubt came from the Liberal party itself, but what of the rest? Did Nathan Tinkler or any of his associates offer Ms Abbott any money? I'm not accusing her of any malfeasance, but she at least needs to answer these questions before her candidacy can be given credence. We've had enough doubt, uncertainty and lack of trust from our politicians, and I'm looking forward to hearing from all candidates how a new ethos of accountability and transparency will prevail.


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