NSW government MPs nervous after more ICAC resignations

State political editor Sean Nicholls says latest ICAC casualties of the NSW Liberals will make government MPs nervous.

When it comes to corruption, the more things change, the more
they stay the same. The good, old-fashioned, brown paper bag may have
morphed into a A4 envelope or even a David Jones shopping bag. But cash
is still king when it comes to crooked deals.

This latest corruption inquiry has painted a reassuringly
familiar picture. There is the property developer, ensconced in his
luxury motor car (in this case a Bentley), surreptitiously slipping a
bent politician or two a wad full of the folding stuff.

Tim Owen, a former air commodore with the RAAF before
becoming a Liberal MP, resumed his seat in the witness box at the
Independent Commission Against Corruption on Tuesday morning.

Back in the ICAC witness box: Tim Owens.
Back in the ICAC witness box: Tim Owens. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Gone was his smart suit and tie from the previous day and in
its place was a checked, open-necked shirt. The only remnant from his
previous day’s business attire was his Order of Australia still pinned
to the lapel of his coat.

The MP for Newcastle looked visibly relaxed. There were only
some questions to be bowled up by barristers for other witnesses then
his ordeal would be over.

To his horror, the very first question from the first barrister effectively ruined his life.

<em>Illustration: John Shakespeare</em>
Illustration: John Shakespeare

Ian Faulkner, SC, who represented the lord mayor of Newcastle
Jeff McCloy, asked Owen if he had arranged to meet McCloy straight
after Owen went in to a private hearing with ICAC in May this year.

It was down hill from there. Owen couldn’t even give a
truthful answer as to when he had last met McCloy. “Um, maybe a week or
two ago or maybe a couple of days, I can’t remember to be honest with

In fact, the pair had met only two days earlier – on Sunday –
when Owen tried to convince McCloy he should lie and agree with Owen’s
version that he had only received a small amount of cash and that he had
returned it to McCloy.

In fact, Owen had kept the $10,000 cash and used it in his
campaign. “My wife will divorce me," Owen allegedly said to McCloy.
"I’ve sworn on a stack of bibles that I didn’t receive any money.”

But Owen also swore on a bible on Monday before a packed
public gallery that he would tell the truth to Commissioner Megan

Not only was it a criminal offence to conspire to mislead
ICAC, there was a possible five-year jail term for lying in the witness

In May, Charlotte Thaarup-Owen, no doubt buoyed by her
husband’s protestations of innocence, posted on Facebook that her
husband had gone into politics with the best of intentions but would
leave disappointed and angry.

"When we do the wrong thing, we not only violate ourselves
and our own integrity but we also tarnish those close to us with our
poor choices," she wrote. "Perhaps the worst thing is that we contribute
to general mistrust and disillusionment in society in general, this is
not what the world needs!"

Indeed, it isn’t.