THREE years after her bruising election defeat and in the wake of recent revelatory corruption hearings, Jodi McKay is now comfortable with the idea of visiting the city she had left behind and ‘‘shut the door on’’.
‘‘I feel like I probably could go back [to Newcastle] now because I’ve been able to get some closure to some of the things that happened and understand who was behind it and what was going on,’’ the former Labor MP said this week.
And she says she ‘‘feels’’ for the man who replaced her, Liberal Tim Owen, even though it now appears it was not a ‘‘fair election’’.
‘‘Both he and I have been caught up in something that’s far bigger than both of us,’’ she said.
But of the man who helped oust her, former billionaire Nathan Tinkler, by allegedly bankrolling campaigns against her? ‘‘I don’t actually feel anything about him’’. Maybe ‘‘a bit sorry for him’’.
‘‘He’s let so many people down,’’ she said.
Ms McKay was a key witness at the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s first tranche of public hearings into secret political donations, revealing an alleged offer from Mr Tinkler to fund her election campaign.
She told how he’d proposed using his employees to get around laws banning developers from donating, at a time she publicly opposed his plans for a coal loader at Mayfield.
At the same time, then Labor Treasurer Eric Roozendaal was ‘‘stonewalling’’ her preferred container terminal plans for the site and when confronted told her, ‘‘Haven’t you spoken to Tinkler?’’
ICAC counsel assisting the inquiry revealed that after she knocked backed the ‘‘bribe’’, Tinkler-controlled company Buildev, Ms McKay’s colleague and senior Labor MP Joe Tripodi and former Labor staffer Ann Wills created anonymous brochures warning of ‘‘Jodi’s trucks’’ from a container terminal.
They were delivered to thousands of inner-city Newcastle homes a few weeks before the poll.
The confirmation of what she’d long suspected ‘‘just hit me, I just couldn’t breathe, and then all this emotion came up and I thought ‘finally I know’’’, leaving her in tears in the witness box, she recalled.
But the inquiry did not end there, exploring allegations Buildev secretly funded the campaigns of Mr Owen and others on the Central Coast, paying $66,000 via Mr Tinkler’s Patinack Farm to ‘‘sham’’ business and slush fund Eightbyfive, in return for favours from Terrigal Liberal MP and former minister Chris Hartcher.
Mr Tinkler denied he knew about the payments and accused Ms McKay of lying about a bribe, but said he’d given $50,000 to the Newcastle Alliance, which ran anti-Labor advertisements before the election.
Accused of trying to ‘‘get rid’’ of Ms McKay, he replied: ‘‘I think the people of Newcastle took care of that for me.’’
Ms McKay said this week she had reported his offer to ICAC in 2011. She knew nothing then of his alleged support for the Liberal Party but had ‘‘always questioned the amount of money that the Libs threw at [the seat of Newcastle]’’.
‘‘[Mr Tinkler] seems to have no regard or respect for anyone including those people who work with him and small businesses involved with his companies,’’ she said.
Mr Owen, who is not the subject of any allegations, has announced he won’t recontest the seat.
Ms McKay said that like her, he had ‘‘paid an enormous price’’ for what occurred and ‘‘I do feel for him and I think that generally he’s done a good job’’.
‘‘It’s a hard seat. Newcastle is a hard town and I think he’s given it his best,’’ she said.
Mr Owen appeared to have trusted others and not asked ‘‘hey, where’s the money coming from’’, she said.
‘‘When you’re a new candidate, and this was the same for me, you don’t know necessarily the electoral laws,’’ she said.
Mr Owen had largely built on the city renewal strategy she began, Ms McKay said, but securing light rail for the city was ‘‘fantastic’’.
‘‘I think the fact that the government has committed to taking out the heavy rail is going to change the city and I think that’s a very positive thing,’’ she said.
‘‘He should be very proud of that.’’
After the election, on which she spent $27,000 of her own, Ms McKay moved to Sydney and later started work at Family Planning NSW.
‘‘I couldn’t sell my house, I couldn’t get a job for 10 months, I couldn’t live in Newcastle and then I waited for ICAC or the police or someone to tell me what had happened,’’ she said.
She now feels ‘‘cleansed’’ and able to visit, but has declared she will ‘‘never’’ return to politics.
The inquiry’s public hearings will resume in August.