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Corruption and atonement in NSW

  • 26 August 2014
Fact can be stranger than fiction. That certainly applies to the most recent revelations before the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales. Two Liberal MPs have resigned from Parliament and by-elections will be held shortly.

Andrew Cornwell, the first-term Member for Charlestown, admitted taking a total of $20000 from two property developers before the 2011 state elections, $10000 used to fund his campaign and $10000 used to pay his personal tax bill.

A second new MP, Tim Owen, the Member for Newcastle, initially lied about accepting $10000 cash from one of the developers, and allowed that developer and a second one jointly to pay the $20000 salary of his campaign media adviser. Both MPs have apologised without accepting much personal responsibility.

The developer at the centre of the scandal, Jeff McCloy, the mayor of Newcastle, was throwing around so much money before the state election that he jocularly described himself as like a 'walking ATM'. He too has now been forced from office.

All this follows an earlier string of allegations before ICAC that have brought down the Liberal Premier, Barry O'Farrell, the former Minister, Chris Hartcher, two other Central Coast MPs, and a parliamentary secretary, Marie Ficarra. The allegations have also claimed the former chairman of the official Liberal Party fundraising organisation, Paul Nicolau, and the former federal Liberal parliamentary secretary, Arthur Sinodinos.

The previous Labor Party government had itself descended into a shambles of petty corruption, musical chairs and factional bitterness. Since then ICAC has revealed major corruption inside that Labor government involving not just major figures like Eddie Obeid and Ian MacDonald but other ministers as well. The truth about Labor corruption is still emerging more than three years later, including even playing a part in defeating its own sitting member in Newcastle.

One can only conclude that such corruption, petty, middle-range and major, is business as usual at the higher levels of public life in New South Wales. There is an entrenched culture of doing political business that is not just contrary to reasonable ethical standards but illegal.

Both sides of NSW politics claim to have turned over a new leaf and support tough new lobbying regulations, separating paid lobbyists from party office-holding, and increased transparency surrounding all dealings with ministers. But at the heart of the shambles are not commercial lobbyists but personal and institutional ethical failure, often driven by the lure of self-interest and advantage whether it is in getting