Comment: NSW government two wickets down as ICAC strikes again

Charlestown MP Andrew Cornwell, and his wife, Samantha Brookes, arrive to give evidence at the ICAC hearing in Sydney, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. (AAP)

Two former New South Wales government MPs have resigned from parliament hours after one admitted lying to the state's corruption watchdog. How did it get to this?

If there's one constant thing about Australian politics that never ceases to amaze me, it's how some of our nation's politicians always seem to find new ways to implicate themselves with potentially corrupt activities every couple of years or so.

From the politician who occasionally decides to rort their office expenses and travel entitlements through to grandiose schemes such as those uncovered by both the Fitzgerald Inquiry and the Independent Commission Against Corruption into state politics within Queensland and New South Wales respectfully, it's as if a self-destruct button is installed on some of the nation's politicians as soon as they decide to enter politics.

But while the implosion of political careers is always an interesting phenomena to watch, especially for investigative journalists such as myself, such events nearly always create a pulsing community-wide sense of enragement as the allegedly corrupt actions of those in power and other positions of authority gradually come to light.

Now while the public's attention has primarily been focused upon the now infamous appearances of Eddie Obeid, Joe Tripodi and Ian MacDonald amongst others from the Labor party at the Independent Commission Against Corruption over recent years, it's evident that the Coalition is just as susceptible as Labor is when it comes to being the target of concentrated public vitriol due to both alleged and confirmed instances of corruption.

Take for example the situations surrounding the now former Liberal Members for Charlestown and Newcastle Andrew Cornwell and Tim Owen, who resigned from the New South Wales Parliament over recent days.

While both Cornwell and Owen maintained highly respectable places within Australian society prior to entering politics, with Cornwell being a Veterinarian and Owen an Air Commodore within the Royal Australian Air Force and a Member of the Order of Australia, both are now leaving public life in disgrace after misleading the public over the source of their campaign fundraising.

While the public may be able to uneasily accept mistakes that have been presumably made in good faith on a politician's register of potential conflicts of interest (such as a bottle of 1959 Penfolds Grange), the acceptance of funds and other tangible politically-orientated assets from property developers and other prohibited donors is a much harder web to escape from.

Needless to say, such positions can become completely and utterly untenable, especially when your own testimony leads you to loose the support of your colleagues and leadership within the Parliament, with Premier Mike Baird sounding the death knell on the careers of both Owen and Cornwell just before Question Time on Tuesday.

"Everyone in NSW, everyone in the electorates has the right to feel appalled, angered and betrayed," said Premier Baird during one of the most determined media statements of his political career.

These sentiments were soon reinforced by other members of the Liberal party room, with the former Country Vice-President of the New South Wales Liberals State Executive and current member of the Legislative Council Scot MacDonald stating on the record to SBS News Online how extremely dismayed he was by the events that had been unfolding at ICAC over recent months.

“This has been very disappointing behaviour” said Mr MacDonald, after being approached for comment on Tuesday night.

“I hope that this inquiry cleans out the people who are in parliament for the wrong reasons.”

Coincidentally, Mr MacDonald isn't the only Liberal politician to have publicly shown dismay at the problems surrounding political campaign donations in New South Wales over recent weeks, with Senator Cory Bernardi, who has chaired federal committees on parliamentary entitlements and the regulations governing Senator's Interests, saying that political donations should be reported as a matter of urgency to the relevant state and federal authorities.

“Whatever that amount is, I'd like to see it up on the AEC website in a timely manner, and look lets not guild the lily. You receive a cheque, you enter it into you electorate database or the party does, and it's sent to the AEC”, stated the South Australian Senator during a recent address at the National Press Club in Canberra in response to a question surrounding the corruption allegations in New South Wales.

“It's an administrative thing and we should be able to do that with technology.”

Needless to say, that's a suggestion that both the ICAC and all sides of New South Wales parliament would be well advised to take heed of, as we get closer to the state election next year.

Kate Doak is a freelance radio and cross-media journalist.

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