Tim Owen leaves ICAC yesterday after giving evidence. Source: News Corp Australia
Andrew Cornwell and his wife Samantha Brookes arrive at ICAC. Source: News Corp Australia
TWO suspended Liberal Party MPs have resigned from NSW parliament following corruption allegations and a confession by one to lying to ICAC.
The resignations of Newcastle MP Tim Owen and Charlestown MP Andrew Cornwell were announced to NSW parliament.
NSW Premier Mike Baird says by-elections will be held in the two Hunter Valley seats, despite the state election being only seven months away.
“Everyone in NSW, everyone in the electorates has the right to feel appalled, angered and betrayed,’’ said Mr Baird, who earlier called for the two to quit following revelations at the Independent Commission against Corruption of illegal donations paid by property developers.
Mr Owen today admitted lying to ICAC about returning $10,000 he received from property developer and Newcastle Mayor Jeff McCloy.
Instead he says the money was used for his campaign, in breach of electoral funding laws.
Mr Cornwell has also admitted accepting payments from property developers.
Mr Owen and Mr Cornwell last week stepped down from the parliamentary LIberal Party following the allegations at ICAC. Both initially said they would quit politics at the next election.
Mr Baird it was not up to him to decide the future of the MPs, who were no longer members of the Liberal Party.
But the Premier said words could not explain how disappointed and angry he was at the behaviour exposed by ICAC.
Mr Owen, under cross examination at ICAC, today admitted evidence he gave yesterday about a meeting with Mr McCloy was false.
The penalty for giving false evidence to ICAC is up to five years jail.
Questioned by counsel for Mr McCloy, Mr Owen also admitted that he had met with Mr McCloy last Sunday to discuss what he would tell the commission.
Mr Owen yesterday told ICAC he met Mr McCloy in Hunter Street Newcastle in December 2010 and was given an envelope full of cash. He said he thought about it and decided that he should return the money.
YESTERDAY: MP said no to cash
He told the commission that he dropped it back to Mr McCloy’s letterbox with a note which said: “No Thanks.”
Today he admitted that story was false, and the money — $10,000 — was used for his campaign. According to Mr McCloy’s counsel, Mr Owen had wanted to say the amount was $2000 and that he had given it back.
Quoting Mr Owen’s evidence from Monday, Mr McCloy’s lawyer asked “if the words that follow … ‘and then I went back to his house after that and basically dropped the envelope back in his letter box’,’’ were false.
“Yes. It was,’’ said Mr Owen, a former deputy commander of Australian forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“You said ‘I think I just put a little note on it that said no thanks’, that answer was false?’’ Councillor McCloy’s lawyer pressed.
“Correct,’’ Mr Owen said.
He had told Mr McCloy that he would have to get divorced if he admitted taking the money, the hearing heard.
Mr Owen denied he was asked by Mr McCloy to come clean about the cash.
“You said ‘my wife will divorce me. I’ve sworn on a stack of bibles that I didn’t receive any money,’’ Mr McCloy’s lawyer said.
“I didn’t say that to him, no,’’ Mr Owen said.
The two had shaken hands after the meeting, Mr McCloy’s lawyer said.
Mr Owen said he had wanted to make a statement at the end of proceedings yesterday admitting that his earlier testimony was false, but wasn’t given a chance.
He agreed that he and Mr McCloy had made a tentative agreement to give false evidence to ICAC. “I’m not proud of it.”
He said that Mr Cornwell had told him that ICAC had overheard a conversation between Mr Cornwell and his wife about accepting a separate $10,000 in cash from Mr McCloy.
Mr Owen didn’t know if that was why Mr Cornwell had admitted taking the money.
Mr Cornwell last week admitted receiving $10,000 from Mr McCloy, which he said he handed to his Liberal branch treasurer who in turn donated it to the party.
Mr McCloy has denied this and has rejected calls to stand down as Newcastle mayor – calls repeated today by Minister for Local Government Paul Toole.
Mr McCloy is due to give evidence to ICAC later this week.
Mr Cornwell also admitted that being given $10,000 by property developer Hilton Grugeon for a painting worth far less than that was an attempt to bribe him, and that he had obtained a personal financial benefit.
LIBERAL CASUALTIES OF NSW ICAC:
ARTHUR SINODINOS (NSW Senator)
- Steps down in March as federal assistant treasurer over his dealings with controversial company, Australian Water Holdings.
BARRY O’FARRELL (Ku-ring-gai)
- Resigns as NSW premier on April 16 after misleading ICAC over a $3000 bottle of wine.
- Not accused of corruption.
CHRIS HARTCHER (Terrigal)
- Steps down as energy minister in December, amid corruption allegations.
- Moves to the cross benches in February.
CHRIS SPENCE (The Entrance)
- Moves to the cross benches in February amid corruption allegations.
- Announces in June that he will not contest 2015 state election.
DARREN WEBBER (Wyong)
- Moves to the cross benches in February amid corruption allegations.
- Announces in June that he will not contest 2015 state election.
MARIE FICARRA (upper house MP)
- Allegedly solicited banned donation.
- Moves to the cross benches in April.
MIKE GALLACHER (upper house MP)
- Allegedly hatched a “corrupt scheme’’.
- Steps down as police minister on May 2.
- Joins cross bench.
TIM OWEN (Newcastle)
- Announces on May 12 that he will not contest the 2015 state election because of recurring health issues and ICAC allegations. Concedes banned donors “probably’’ contributed to his 2011 political campaign.
- Moves to the cross benches on August 6 on the first day of new round of ICAC hearings.
- Quits parliament on August 12 after admitting to lying to the ICAC about returning $10,000 to developer and now Newcastle mayor Jeff McCloy.
ANDREW CORNWELL (Charlestown)
- Moves to the cross benches, resigns as government whip on August 6 after allegations he was offered $10,000 in a brown paper bag by developer and now Newcastle mayor Jeff McCloy in his Bentley. He later admits to receiving the money, in addition to a $10,000 bribe from another developer.
- Announces on August 8 that he will not contest 2015 state election.
- Quits parliament on August 12.
‘Not a nice look': suspended Liberal MP Tim Owen tells ICAC he returned an envelope stuffed with cash to property developer Jeff McCloy
A second state MP has told a corruption inquiry that property developer and now Newcastle mayor Jeff McCloy handed over a wad of cash before the last state election, in breach of laws banning political donations from property developers.
In an explosive day of evidence on Monday, suspended Liberal MP Tim Owen told the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that he met Mr McCloy in Hunter Street, Newcastle before the 2011 election, where he was given a “thin envelope” stuffed with $100 bills.
‘I must admit I thought, ‘Hmm, what do I do with this?’,’ said suspended Liberal MP Tim Owen of an envelope of cash. Photo: Phil Hearne
Mr Owen, who won the seat of Newcastle, said Mr McCloy did not say anything as he handed over the money.
“What? No foreplay?” quipped counsel assisting the commission, Geoffrey Watson, SC.
“I took it at the time and I must admit I thought, ‘Hmm, what do I do with this?’ ” Mr Owen said.
Andrew Cornwell. Photo: Daniel Munoz
Days later, he put the envelope of cash in Mr McCloy’s letterbox with a note to the effect of “no thanks”. bloody liar
“It just wasn’t a particularly nice look, I’ve got to say,” Mr Owen said.
The evidence comes days after Charlestown MP Andrew Cornwell told the commission that Mr McCloy had given him an envelope containing $10,000 in cash at a clandestine meeting in Mr McCloy’s Bentley.
Mr Cornwell, who has taken leave from parliament and who quit the Liberal Party on Friday, has admitted to the inquiry that he took the money from Mr McCloy and that it went into his own campaign coffers. Since 2009, it has been illegal in NSW to accept campaign donations from property developers.
In another sensational development, Mr Owen admitted that after he gave evidence in a secret hearing at the ICAC in May, he met Mr McCloy at a coffee shop in Sydney.
It is an offence to discuss evidence given in private hearings but Mr Owen claimed he was merely asking Mr McCloy if there was “anything else idiotic” he might have done in relation to Mr Owen’s campaign.
After the private hearing, Mr Owen announced that he would not contest next year’s election.
The inquiry heard that Mr McCloy and another property developer, Hilton Grugeon, jointly paid the $20,000 wage of Mr Owen’s campaign media adviser Luke Grant.
Mr Owen repeatedly tried to distance himself from a raft of illegalities regarding his election campaign funding. Under electoral funding laws, politicians are only guilty of a criminal offence if they were aware at the time they accepted the donation of “the facts that result in the act being unlawful”.
He claimed that he was too busy campaigning, or that he relied on others, including his campaign manager Hugh Thomson, or senior Liberal and former police minister Mike Gallacher, to advise him of the legalities of various donations.
“If they believed it was legal … then I took their word,” Mr Owen said. However, earlier on Monday he admitted that he had known for years that banned donors helped to bankroll his campaign and it was “clearly not above board”.
“All I can say is, I am dreadfully sorry,” he said. Mr Owen claimed he “didn’t actually ping to the fact that something was illegal” until a few months after election.
He said he had known since late 2010 or early 2011 that Nathan Tinkler’s property development group Buildev helped to fund his campaign, and he was aware the company was a property developer. However, he insisted Mr Tinkler’s company “got nothing out of me, I can tell you”.
On Monday, Mr Watson foreshadowed that the commission would call federal Liberal MP Bob Baldwin, who supported Mr Tinkler’s plans for a coal loader in Newcastle.The inquiry has heard Buildev made donations to Mr Baldwin, but it is not illegal for property developers to give donations to federal candidates and politicians.
ICAC: NSW MP Andrew Cornwell quits Liberal Party, won’t seek re-election after ‘huge mistake’
Photo: Newcastle MP Tim Owen stood aside from the parliamentary Liberal Party on Wednesday. (ABC: Nick Gerber)
Another New South Wales MP at the centre of a corruption inquiry has announced he will not re-contest the next state election.
Charlestown MP Andrew Cornwell, who stood aside from the parliamentary Liberal Party on Wednesday, said he considered the interests of his electorate and his family in making the decision not to stand for re-election.
“Following my appearance at the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) yesterday I have thought carefully about what is in the best interests of the people of Charlestown,” Mr Cornwell said in a statement.
“I have decided that I will not contest the next state election.
“Today, I tendered my resignation from the Liberal Party of Australia (NSW Division).
“I have sought parliamentary leave from the Speaker because these matters have significantly impacted my family and, while I take full responsibility for my own actions, I need to care for my family during this time.”
The announcement follows Mr Cornwell’s admission he paid his tax bill with a cheque from property developer Hilton Grugeon, which was given in exchange for an overvalued painting.
When asked why he did not refuse what was an illegal donation from a developer or take it to the police, he said: “It was a huge mistake.”
Tim Owen ‘knew’ developers were paying staffer
The evidence before the ICAC made it as “plain as day” that Newcastle MP Tim Owen knew one of his election campaign staff members was being paid by developers, the commission has been told.
Liberal Party campaign staffer Josh Hodges has admitted he knew his work on Mr Owen’s 2011 campaign was being bankrolled by Nathan Tinkler’s development firm Buildev and developer Bill Saddington.
Mr Hodges told the inquiry he was told to issue fake invoices to the development firms for consultancy work, totalling about $10,000.
The counsel assisting the commission, Geoffrey Watson SC, put to him: “You would have known they were property developers and because of that prohibited donors?”
Mr Hodges replied: “Yes.”
Mr Watson then asked: “Did you understand that this was a scheme, the point of which was to avoid the electoral funding laws?”
“I did, yes,” Mr Hodges answered.
Mr Watson tendered text messages and phone records that he said showed Mr Owen knew Mr Saddington and Buildev were paying Mr Hodges’ wages.
One text message Mr Owen sent on February 1, 2011, said: “Would Bill Saddington be happy to start paying him ASAP?”
Mr Watson said it also appeared that Mr Owen intervened when Buildev was late to pay Mr Hodges.
When the money had not come through four months after the election, Mr Owen’s campaign manager Hugh Thomson sent a text message asking him to call “DW” and “lean on him – it’s been promised for months”.
Mr Owens replied: “Will do.”
Phone records show Mr Owen then called Buildev executive Darren Williams, and the inquiry heard the money was then paid to Mr Hodges.
“It’s plain as day looking at all of this that Mr Owen was aware of the involvement of Buildev,” Mr Watson said.
Earlier, Mr Hodges told the hearing he had had discussions with Buildev about its plans to build a coal loader in Newcastle.
Mr Watson asked him if he could see anything wrong with a property developer pitching a proposal to a politician and his adviser while illegally bankrolling that politician’s campaign.
Mr Hodges replied: “He can’t achieve a lot when he’s not in Parliament.”
He said Buildev would have made donations to get “an ear” or “access”, but not an approval for the coal load project.