THE state Liberal party’s promise to put an end to political scandals in Newcastle has nosedived with the scalp of prominent Liberal MP Tim Owen being claimed on Monday by the investigation into the party’s deals with developers.
Mr Owen officially assumed the One Term Tim moniker given to him by some Labor figures, announcing he would not recontest his seat because it was ‘‘highly likely’’ that prohibited donors had contributed to his 2011 election campaign.
In another calamitous day for the state government:
■ Mr Owen said he was not aware of the donations made to his campaign by the Nathan Tinkler-backed development company Buildev, adding that he felt ‘‘undermined’’ by members of his own party.
■ New state Premier Mike Baird remained silent on Mr Owen’s pending resignation.
■ Former Liberal candidate Jaimie Abbott said she had not yet decided if she would step into Mr Owen’s shoes.
Mr Owen fronted a noon media conference looking emotional and drawn. He said he had been ‘‘shocked and dismayed’’ by ICAC revelations of donations to the Liberal party by prohibited donors and developers.
The drama ‘‘had made me feel undermined and very sad’’, he said, adding he was ‘‘extremely angry’’ at revelations that banned donors had contributed to his campaign without his knowledge.
Mr Owen refused any questions as to who knew about or solicited such donations, but the fact they existed was ‘‘highly likely’’.
‘‘I want to say this clearly to the people of Newcastle. I had no knowledge whatsoever of any funding irregularities in my campaign.’’
Mr Owen said ‘‘recurring health issues’’ had also played a role in his decision, but he would not elaborate.
‘‘What we need more than ever now is a leader with integrity and I know we have that in spades in our Premier Mike Baird,’’ he said.
Mr Baird was saying nothing. A spokesman said: “The Premier spoke to Mr Owen over the weekend and was informed of his decision. He has no further comment.”
State Opposition Leader John Robertson had plenty to say. Mr Owen’s revelation raised ‘‘serious questions about the activities of the Liberal Party in the Hunter’’.
“Hunter residents were promised by the Liberals that they would be ‘whiter than white’ and put an end to the scandals,’’ Mr Robertson said.
‘‘But now it seems at the very time they were making these promises to the Hunter the Liberals were engaged in this dubious behaviour.
“There are also serious questions for Mike Baird to answer as to why Mr Owen has not stepped down from the Liberal party and is sitting on the crossbench given his own admissions today.
“Mike Baird promised to be the worst nightmare of anyone engaged [in] corrupt behaviour, yet he has taken no action to clean up politics and is sadly missing in action today.’’
Charlestown Liberal MP Andrew Cornwell said he had ‘‘absolutely not’’ received any money from prohibited donors for his campaign.
A NSW Liberal Party spokeswoman declined to comment on matters before the ICAC, but said the party would contest the seat of Newcastle in 2015, with details about preselection to be advised.
Recent Newcastle federal Liberal candidate Jaimie Abbott said yesterday that she had not thought about standing for the state seat and was focused on her business.
Miss Abbott, a strong supporter of Mr Owen, lamented his decision not to seek re-election.
‘‘I’m pretty disappointed because I know how hard Tim has always worked,’’ she said.
‘‘It [standing for the state seat] isn’t something I’ve thought about as yet.’’
Mr Baird’s office refused to say why Mr Owen would not be required to sit on the crossbench.
Central Coast Liberal MPs named in the inquiry – Chris Hartcher, Darren Webber and Chris Spence – already sit on the crossbench as independents, after suspending their party membership.
Mr Hartcher also quit as resources and energy minister when ICAC investigators raided his office late last year.
However, unlike the trio, Mr Owen has not to date been named as an ICAC target – although it has alleged donations were made ‘‘under the table’’ to his campaign.
Mr Owen’s campaign team included former Port Stephens councillor Josh Hodges, who co-ordinated activities such as volunteers, and Hugh Thomson, a former Liberal Party branch president.
The party also appointed a ‘‘battleground director’’, Rod Bosman, who oversaw the Hunter and Central Coast.
Mr Hodges said yesterday he had not dealt with campaign funding.
He declined to comment on the ICAC investigations.
Mr Thomson also declined to comment. Mr Bosman could not be reached.
I stand here before you today with a very heavy heart.
Like you, I have been shocked and dismayed by revelations over recent weeks regarding political donations from prohibited donors to the Liberal Party of NSW.
Public admissions that have been made at ICAC regarding the Newcastle 2011 state election campaign have made me feel undermined and very sad.
I want to say this clearly to the people of Newcastle. I had no knowledge whatsoever of any funding irregularities in my campaign. However, it appears that it is highly likely that prohibited donors did contribute in some way to my election campaign. I am extremely angry.
Last week has been a very difficult period for my family and me. It is very easy to make decisions in haste so I have taken the time to reflect.
It is also easy when information of this nature comes to light to lose our faith in the goodness and decency of people. It is important to remember that the vast majority of those who enter public office do so with the right intentions. They remain honest and hardworking servants of the community while they are in parliament.
As I have reflected over recent days, it has become clear to me that my vision for Newcastle has never wavered and nor has my support for all of the citizens of our community. Over the past three years, we coalition MPs in the Hunter have worked as a team for the betterment of the region and for Newcastle in particular.
Personally, I have given my heart and soul to Newcastle and its wonderful people and to the changes we are making in our great city.
These projects will benefit Newcastle far beyond our lifetimes. It will be a wonderful legacy.
I know the Premier and the NSW Liberals and Nationals government will continue the great work that we have started, but I am looking forward to finishing my term with this focus in mind.
In the light of the events of the past couple of weeks, and recurring health issues, I will not contest the next state election in 2015. I have worked honestly, and without fear or favour for the people of this great city, and will continue to do so to the best of my ability for the remainder of my term.
I appreciate the huge support I have received from this government overall, and especially from the people of Newcastle in the journey we have undertaken. Newcastle is bound for a wonderful future.
What we need more than ever now is a leader with integrity and I know we have that in spades in our Premier Mike Baird.
I won’t be making any further comment publicly on this matter.