A couple of months ago, I suggested that Newcastle had come up with a novel way to avoid corruption: instead of having developers hand over wads of cash to politicians in order to influence decisions, some of us (not me) elected a mayor who is a developer. Simple solution? No need for any corruption, since the developer becomes the politician and doesn’t need to influence anyone. It seemed so at the time. Now I take it all back. It turns out that the – ‘I don’t want to hear the word “community”‘ – mayor has been tooling around town in his expensive Bentley, doling out large bundles of cash in brown paper bags to – yes – other politicians who are part of the state government. I kid you not, even though it sounds like the plot of a C-grade movie. And over the last few days before the Independent Commission Against Corruption, it has all come unstuck. The two politicians ended up confessing that they had accepted the cash from our generous mayor, and then used it either for personal purposes or for their election campaigns. By pure coincidence, the state government promptly made some decisions concerning the city: cutting the railway line and approving a high-rise residential development in the middle of town. Both have been wanted by developers for some time and both are widely resented by the townsfolk.
The delicious feature of all this is that the corrupt politicians are both Liberals: at the last election (2011) Andrew Cornwall and Tim Owen snatched the seats of Newcastle and Charlestown for the first time for the Liberal-National coalition, which was able to form government almost four years ago. Cornwall, a vet, accepted money from more than one politician. But Owen in particular has come crashing down: he was earlier an air commodore and received an Order of Australia for his service. So he campaigned on ‘integrity.’ Now he has admitted to giving false evidence under oath, to meeting our dearly-beloved mayor to conspire to do so, and to accepting bribes. Both he and Cornwall have now ‘resigned’ from the state parliament and the seats are set for by-elections. No prizes for guessing who will win these normally safe Labor seats. (To add spice to the story, they are now the sixth and seventh members of the Liberal-National Government found to have acted corruptly – and even more seem to be in line.)
I can’t wait to see how the mayor goes when it is his turn before the Independent Commission Against Corruption. It will be quite a story, especially since he maintains that the law which prevents developers handing out brown paper bags stuffed full of $100 bills is unfair. After all, that’s what honest citizens do with politicians.