The return of Operation Spicer, the Independent Commission Into Corruption (ICAC) hearings into political fundraising in NSW, which earlier this year brought down premier Barry O’Farrell, has plunged the Liberal Party into crisis again, with two MPs standing aside following allegations that they were involved in illegal donations from developers.
Charlestown MP Andrew Cornwell, the government’s chief whip, and Newcastle MP Tim Owen, stood aside from the Liberal Party this afternoon after discovering they are being investigated in the latest round of ICAC hearings. They will sit on the crossbenches.
Owen had already announced that he will serve only one term in parliament following earlier revelations at the ICAC.
The pair are being investigated over potential illegal donations from property developers in the lead up to the 2011 election. Developer donations were banned in 2009.
Counsel assisting, Geoffrey Watson, SC, spent two hours this morning outlining “fruitful” investigations into funding irregularities involving Liberal candidates in the Hunter Valley.
The Newcastle MP’s campaign manager, Hugh Thomson, has “rolled over” and will give evidence in return for indemnity against prosecution.
Among the allegations this morning, the ICAC heard that Newcastle mayor Jeff McCloy was involved in illegal donations using fake invoices and that a clandestine meeting involving Cornwell was held in the mayor’s Bentley and a $10,000 wad of cash was given to the MP. The Mayor denies the claims.
Controversial coal investor Nathan Tinkler, who has already appeared before the ICAC and his development company, BuildDev, are also part of the investigation and are expected to feature heavily once more, with former Labor MPs and ministers Eric Roozendaal and Joe Tripodi also involved.
Tripodi has already been found to be corrupt by the ICAC and the inquiry has heard that Tripodi undermined former ALP minister Jodi McKay, who lost her seat to Owen, because she opposed a Tinkler development.
Owen stands accused of receiving a range of funds from Tinkler and BuildDev.
During his address, Watson warned that Tripodi may face further sanction, saying “attempting to influence a person to give false evidence is a serious offence”.
NSW premier Mike Baird said he accepted the decisions by Tim Owen and Andrew Cornwell to stand aside from the Liberal Party.