ICAC: Jeff McCloy 'handed over $10k in paper bag to Andrew Cornwell', poll

Mayor of Newcastle, Jeff McCloy. Picture: MARINA NEILL
Mayor of Newcastle, Jeff McCloy. Picture: MARINA NEILL

UPDATE: Newcastle MP Tim Owen has been implicated in a scheme for Buildev and other banned developers to secretly support his election campaign through sham invoices, the Independent Commission Against Corruption has heard.

And “serious irregularities” have been found in the funding of the seat of Charlestown as well as Newcastle, with Liberal MP Andrew Cornwell expected to give evidence Jeff MCCloy, now Lord Mayor of Newcastle, gave him $10,000 in cash in the lead up to the 2011 election.

In his opening address for the resumption of Operation Spicer, Counsel assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson revealed Mr Owen’s campaign manager Hugh Thomson has admitted he was at the “centre of the illegalities” in exchange for his statement not being used against him in a criminal prosecution.

The scheme involved local property developers paying for some members of Mr Owen’s campaign team.

The arrangement included sham invoices prepared for Hilton Grugeon’s Hunter Land Holdings, and Mr MCloy’s McCloy Administration, to pay for Luke Grant, a radio host, to work as Mr Owen’s media officer.

”The evidence is that there was a broad understanding that a number of different prohibited donors would, acting under some subterfuge, provide the funds to keep the campaign rolling,” Mr Watson said.

”The persons involved in this include, on the Liberal Party side, Hugh Thomson...Josh Hodges-a Liberal Party figure who was brought in to co-manage the campaign; and the candidate himself-Tim Owen.”

Mr Owen has previously denied knowing about donations to his campaign, and announced he won’t recontest the seat.

However, the inquiry was also told Mr Owen “proved a disappointment” to Buildev, with Mr Tinkler describing him as a “fence sitter”, amid his and Buildev’s push to build a coal loader at Mayfield.

Mr Cornwell was described to the inquiry as having been an ”inexperienced” candidate who may have acted unwisely, but who had also helped the inquiry.

Mr Cornwell would give evidence Mr McCloy arrived in his Bentley outside Mr Cornwell’s veterinary practice one day during the campaign and called Mr Cornwell out of surgery for an urgent meeting.

As they sat in the car, Mr McCloy handed him an envelope -or possibly a brown paper bag- with a wad of bills, totalling $10,000.

Mr Cornwell, “shocked and embarrassed”, took the money home and later gave it to the president of the Charlestown Liberal branch.

It was banked and donated to the party.

Mr McCloy would deny this occurred, Mr Watson said.

There was no evidence of any favours   done by Mr Cornwell for Mr McCloy, the ICAC was also told.

Port Stephens MP Craig Baumann, also regional planning parliamentary,”may have been aware” of the scheme as it related to property developers paying a salary for Mr Hodges, Mr Watson said.

But Buildev didn’t pay all of the invoices they’d promised to cover, a problem discussed by Mr Thomson, Mr Hodges, Mr Owen and senior Hunter liberal MLC Mike Gallacher, now former police minister.

When Mr Thomson couldn’t get Buildev director Darren Williams to pay,he asked Mr Owen for help. 

Mr Owen rang Mr Williams, who paid the next day.

Mr Watson also turned to two damaging campaigns waged again Mr Owen’s predecessor, Labor’s Jodi McKay, in 2011, with one involving two ofher former cabinet colleagues.

The inquiry was told company Mezzanine Media devised the anti-Labor ”Fed Up” campaign purporting to push for change in the city, but it was “pointedly anti-Labor and specifically anti-McKay”.

Mr Watson said the campaign was offered to the Liberal Party, which did not take it up.

But Mr Thomson suggested it to the Newcastle Alliance’s Paul Murphy, Rolly de With and Neil Slater that they run it as a third-party campaign.

Mr Williams then agreed that Buildev would help fund it, with the inquiry previously hearing of text messages sent to Nathan Tinkler seeking $50,000 for “carpet”.

”Now this was quite illegal,” Mr Watson said.

”...Third party campaigners cannot use donations from property developers.”

Buildev was delighted, with David Sharpe, after hearing one of the radio ads,  congratulating Mr Williams and telling him to “kick the shit out of her [McKay]”.

The inquiry also heard allegations of former MP Joe Tripodi’s role in the creation of brochures smearing Ms McKay before the election over her support for a container terminal at Mayfield and her opposition to Mr Tinkler’s coal loader.

Mr Tripodi had lined up with a job as an adviser to Mr Tinkler’s Hunter Ports after he left parliament, ICAC was told.

Mr Watson said the ICAC was also still investigating former Labor treasurer and ports minister Eric Roozendaal’s role in blocking Ms McKay’s preferred container terminal for the steelworks site, by ordering Treasury to “redo” its advice and produce new advice about the suitability of Mayfield for a coal loader.

The inquiry is continuing.

Newcastle MP Tim Owen has been implicated in a scheme for Buildev and other banned developers to secretly support his election campaign through sham invoices, the Independent Commission Against Corruption has heard today.

And "serious irregularities" have been found in the funding of the seat of Charlestown as well as Newcastle, with Liberal MP Andrew Cornwell expected to give evidence Jeff MCCloy, now Lord Mayor of Newcastle, gave him $10,000 in cash in the lead up to the 2011 election.

In his opening address for the resumption of Operation Spicer, Counsel assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson revealed Mr Owen’s campaign manager Hugh Thomson has admitted he was at the "centre of the illegalities" in exchange for his statement not being used against him in a criminal prosecution.

The scheme involved local property developers paying for some members of Mr Owen’s campaign team.

The arrangement included sham invoices prepared for Hilton Grugeon’s Hunter Land Holdings, and Mr MCloy’s McCloy Administration, to pay for Luke Grant, a radio host, to work as Mr Owen’s media officer.

Mr McCloy is expected to deny all of the accusations, Mr Watson said.

"The evidence is that there was a broad understanding that a number of different prohibited donors would, acting under some subterfuge, provide the funds to keep the campaign rolling," Mr Watson said.

"The person involved in this include, on the Liberal Party side, Hugh Thomson...Josh Hodges - a Liberal Party figure who was brought in to co-manage the campaign; and the candidate himself - Tim Owen."

Mr Owen has previously denied knowing about donations to his campaign, and announced he won’t recontest the seat.

However, the inquiry was also to Mr Owen "proved a disappointment" to Buildev, with Mr Tinkler describing him as a "fence sitter", amid his and Buildev’s push to build a coal loader at Mayfield.

Mr Cornwell was described to the inquiry as having been an "inexperienced" candidate who may have acted unwisely, but who had also helped the inquiry.

There was no evidence of any favours   done by him for Mr McCloy, the ICAC was told.

Port Stephens MP Craig Baumann, also regional planning parliamentary secretary, "may have been aware" of the scheme as it related to property developers paying a salary for Mr Hodges, Mr Watson said.

More to come

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