Newcastle MP Tim Owen will step down after just one term as the seat’s first Liberal member at next year’s NSW election, citing health reasons and fears that he had received illegal campaign donations from developers.
Announcing he would not re-contest the seat at a media conference today, Mr Owen said he was “extremely angry”, had “a heavy heart” and felt “undermined and very sad” in the wake of revelations at The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that former colleague and minister Chris Hartcher was allegedly involved in a secret slush fund channelling illegal donations to the Liberal Party.
Mr Owen was implicated during evidence given in the growing corruption scandal before the ICAC and told NSW Premier Mike Baird of his intention over the weekend.
“I had no knowledge of any funding irregularities in my campaign. However, it appears highly likely that prohibited donors did contribute in some way to my campaign,” Owen said.
The Liberal MP defeated sitting member, Jodi McKay in 2011, who learnt at the ICAC that she had been undermined by ALP colleagues after she refused to accept illegal donations from miner and developer Nathan Tinkler.
Meanwhile, at the ICAC today, former Liberal Party fundraiser and Australian Water Holdings boss, Nick Di Girolamo, whose gift of a $3000 bottle of Grange to Barry O’Farrell led to former premier’s resignation, was giving evidence for a second day.
He denied as ‘outrageous and offensive’ allegations that tens of thousands of dollars donated to the company Eightbyfive by Australian Water Holdings were a sham designed to give AWH “bang for its corrupt buck”. He denied they were aimed at gaining access to shadow ministers in the leadup to the 2011 NSW election.
While Di Girolamo said on Friday that he only spoke to Hartcher “a couple of times a year”, it emerged that the pair exchanged 121 phone calls and SMSs between the election and October 2012.
When ICAC Commissioner Megan Latham asked why he paid Eightbyfive, Di Girolamo explained that it was for advice on Liberal policy.
Di Girolamo was followed in the witness box by former energy minister Chris Hartcher’s long-time associate and staffer Ray Carter, who admitted that he knew he was accepting donations from banned donors at a time when people were “virtually throwing money” to him in the lead up to the election.
He said Hartcher was aware who some of the donors were, but was not “sanctioning” his actions and was told by another Hartcher staffer, Tim Koelma, to forward some donations to a federal fund, the Free Enterprise Foundation, to legitimise them.
The former minister is due in the witness box early next week, while the ICAC is also expected to hear from donor Nathan Tinkler later this week.
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