Ghost a reminder of how city missed out – Newcastle Herald

GREG RAY gray@theherald.com.au 

I SAW the ghost of Uncle Joe this week.

Uncle Joe Tripodi, that is, one of the two great pillars of NSW Labor’s recent past who, along with Uncle Eddie Obeid, ran the state like a nice tight ship, flipping premiers as required and working wonders for their friends and families.

I saw Joe’s ghost in the exhibits tabled at the ICAC’s Operation Spicer, and let me tell you, it brought back memories.

For a moment, I got a bit nostalgic for that time when we discovered that Uncle Joe had helped make sure Newcastle wouldn’t have a car import terminal. The car importers were dead-set keen on Newcastle, but the ALP said there was better political mileage at Port Kembla, so we lost it.

What reminded me of that stab in the back was the ghost of Uncle Joe, flitting to and fro among the ICAC exhibits, allegedly working flat strap to help that nice Mr Tinkler fellow to get a coal-loader approved at Mayfield.

You remember nice Mr Tinkler? He bought the Knights, because he loved sport and wanted to do good deeds for Newcastle.

He had a vision, you see, and you can read about that vision in the ICAC documents where a chirpy underling was proposing a nice article that might appear in the press, imagining the Tinkler-town of the future.

“The second week of October, the Knights have just won another grand final and the team lands at Newcastle Airport on the way to the brand new sports club at Hunter venues to celebrate the win with fans,” the puff piece waffled.

“From the airport, they drive past the Hunter port’s coal facility where two more ships are getting ready to ship another $22 million of Hunter coal off to the world.”

What a beautiful vision. Only trouble, Newcastle had been saying for ages that it wanted to stop depending only on coal for its prosperity. Newcastle wanted to use that Mayfield land for a container terminal and Anglo Ports was in the box seat to run that terminal, enthusiastically declaring that the business case was “irrefutable”.

It might have been irrefutable, but it was a nuisance to Mr Tinkler’s big vision, and it seems like everybody who was anybody in NSW politics, on both sides of the fence, was desperate to help Mr Tinkler.

Only a couple of annoying little pests were in his way. The member for Newcastle, Jodi McKay, and the boss of Newcastle Port Corporation, Gary Webb, believed the container terminal – now practically a done deal – was the best thing for the city.

Luckily, Mr Tinkler had lots of money, which is always handy, and luckily both the Coalition and Uncle Joe were united in their desire to get rid of Jodi McKay.

As for Mr Webb, the alleged ghost of Uncle Joe is quoted in alleged notes of an alleged meeting he allegedly attended saying that if the Newcastle Ports boss kept trying to block Mr Tinkler and his many friends, they would get somebody named “Eric” to have a word with him.

Some people think that means the former NSW treasurer, Eric Roozendaal, but I don’t know for sure. Anyway, the options were that Gary might “roll over” or, if he wouldn’t, Eric could take the land in question away from Newcastle Port Corporation and give it to Hunter Development Corporation “with instructions to do the deal” with nice Mr Tinkler.

If Mr Webb went public to complain, the alleged ghost of Uncle Joe allegedly said the Libs would be called on to “hose down”. Meanwhile, Anglo Ports’ bid for the container terminal would be obstructed by all possible means. So, what happened?

Money flooded into a massive campaign against Jodi McKay, with Mr Tinkler providing some and more coming from a Who’s Who of the Newcastle business and development scene. Many of the donations were illegal, so they were cunningly concealed behind fake invoices, allegedly passed around in paper bags or funnelled through various other political pipelines.

Jodi McKay got beaten, but amazingly, Mr Tinkler’s lovely plan didn’t succeed anyway. The massive multinational-owned T4 coal-loader got up instead.

Newcastle missed out on the irrefutably viable container terminal, just like it missed out on the car import terminal.

And now the port is in foreign hands with a special condition that it’s not allowed to have a container terminal. Or wind turbines.

Thanks a lot, ghost of Uncle Joe. Thanks a lot, nice Mr Tinkler. Thanks a lot, all the rest of you who must have had your reasons for backing one rich geezer against the best interests of an entire city.

You know who you are.

And thanks to the ICAC, now we know too.