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FORMER Newcastle lord mayor Jeff McCloy will not rule out another tilt at politics, saying he is regularly urged to run again.
Mr McCloy made the comment during a wide-ranging interview this week with the Newcastle Herald, which he initiated after deciding to respond to what he said was a concerted and unfair attack on his reputation.
Now typically described in national media as ‘‘the disgraced’’ former lord mayor of Newcastle, Mr McCloy has avoided public comment since the Independent Commission Against Corruption controversy, waiting, instead, for the outcome of a High Court challenge he has mounted against the state’s ban on developer donations.
But recent articles in the metropolitan press have led to Mr McCloy wanting to ‘‘set the record straight’’.
‘‘There have been some fanciful allegations and blatant lies written about me in recent times, some of this slanderous material is based on the theme of a ‘greedy developer’ looking to gain monetary reward,’’ Mr McCloy said.
‘‘This is simply not true.’’
The Belmont-based businessman resigned from his Newcastle City Council position in August last year after the ICAC exposed his 2011 Liberal campaign donations totalling $21,475 for three candidates, with another $10,000 towards Liberal candidate staff costs.
The controversy resulted in Tim Owen (Newcastle) and Andrew Cornwell (Charlestown) resigning from Parliament, with Swansea MP Garry Edwards moving to the crossbenches before being expelled from the Liberal Party in January.
Mr McCloy was one of a number of business figures alleged to have contravened state laws banning political donations from developers.
The official ICAC report into Operation Spicer – as the donations investigation is known – is on hold because of a challenge to the commission’s authority over an unrelated matter involving prominent state prosecutor Margaret Cunneen.
On his High Court challenge, Mr McCloy said the government recently filed its defence and a hearing was expected in June.
In his appearance before ICAC last year, Mr McCloy argued that because some of his companies were not property related, he should have been able to donate to politics despite the public perception of him as a property developer.
As the Herald has reported over the years, Mr McCloy and his companies have invested in various businesses, including hotels, hospitality, aquaculture and tourism.
‘‘It’s OK for unions to donate to a political party in the expectation that their members will be well treated and looked after but I can’t make donations to a party that I think will do a better job, financially, when it comes to governing?’’ Mr McCloy said.
‘‘If anything is ‘disgraceful’ in all of this, then it’s the ban on donations, which is what the High Court challenge is all about.’’
Asked if he would do the same thing again, given his time over, Mr McCloy said: ‘‘If you do things for the right reasons, you should have no regrets.
‘‘If my actions end up getting more sensible donation laws in this state, then it would be a good thing.’’
He did not believe his actions or his intentions were in any way corrupt, saying: ‘‘I wanted a better Newcastle and I have had a long history of wanting that.’’
Mr McCloy declined to spell out the full extent of his business dealings, or to put an estimate on his personal wealth, but he did provide a spreadsheet of the Newcastle real estate he had bought and sold since 2006, which he said was the period of concern.
He said the list of 13 property transactions across 10 sites showed that far from being a ‘‘greedy developer’’, he had lost $4.2million on six inner-city properties bought and sold between 2006 and 2014.
He said the Lucky Hotel and three other properties were valued at $11.7million less than it had cost to buy and refurbish them.
Mr McCloy said his only other inner-Newcastle property was the six-storey Telstra building on the corner of Hunter Street and Darby Street, finished in 1998 when his father, the late Don McCloy, was still part of the family firm.
Described at the time as a ‘‘$15million city landmark’’, Mr McCloy said it was now worth $25million.
‘‘We’ve bought and sold lots of Newcastle property over 40years but now it’s just those four plus the Telstra building,’’ he said.
Mr McCloy said he was amazed that people writing about him from Sydney had ‘‘not bothered to pick up the phone’’ to ask him any questions or to check any of their assertions.
He defended his actions in relation to Newcastle Art Gallery, saying he supported ‘‘an extension of the gallery but it needs to be done in a proper and professional way’’.
He said his support for public art, including the city’s annual Hit The Bricks street art festival, showed he was not the ‘‘philistine’’ his critics were painting him to be.
He said descriptions of him as a ‘‘disgraced lord mayor’’ were hurtful and inaccurate as the donations at the heart of his supposed ‘‘disgrace’’ were made well before he decided to run for council.
‘‘Saying so will only bring out the haters but there is nothing that I did as lord mayor that could be remotely construed as bringing the council into disgrace,’’ Mr McCloy said. ‘‘Far from it. With Ken Gouldthorp as general manager, we put the council’s finances in shape.’’
Asked about a return to public life, Mr McCloy said he was not ruling it out and said ‘‘a lot of people’’ were urging him to run again in some capacity.
He said people were forgetting the ‘‘paralysis’’ and ‘‘infighting’’ that had gripped Newcastle council in the years before he stood and he feared a return to that time.
‘‘But for the time being, my focus is on running the family business, which I hope will help with Newcastle’s future success,’’ Mr McCloy said.
Listing his investments in chronological order, Mr McCloy said he bought the Blackwoods property at Hannell Street, Wickham, in December 2006.
In October 2007, he bought the former Hunter Water headquarters at 591 Hunter Street and 426 King Street.
Mr McCloy said he had hoped to attract the University of Newcastle as a tenant but the buildings were now home to a Balance Health Club gym and various offices, including the McCloy Group.
In the last two months of 2007, he bought the former Toymasters building at 615Hunter Street (sold in 2009), the former Churchills building at 633 Hunter Street (sold in February 2015) and a commercial building at 11Brown Street (sold in 2012).
In 2008, Mr McCloy bought the then Lucky Country Hotel, spending another $8.3million on a building that cost $4.3million: ‘‘It owes me a lot but I love it and we are trying to do something good there.’’
The businessman’s next purchase was a ‘‘town’’ home, Egmont House, at 122 Church Street, sold in November 2014 after he quit City Hall, followed by the since-demolished Legacy House at 45 Bolton Street (sold in March 2009).
In 2009, he bought a half-share in the former NIB offices at 356 Hunter Street (sold in 2011), followed in 2014 by two properties next to The Lucky.
‘‘These losses are part of the risk of doing business and I accept that, but to accuse me of seeking a monetary gain from the revitalisation of Newcastle and the removal of the rail line is simply untrue,’’ Mr McCloy said. ‘‘Most of the properties we bought in Newcastle were dilapidated or ageing and we restored them and sold some on.
‘‘The end result was an improvement to the landscape of the CBD, which has been a long-held aim for my company and myself.
‘‘As things stand, I have realised and unrealised losses of more than $15.7million on these properties.
‘‘Refurbishment costs alone have topped $21.5million – investment that generated jobs for local businesses.
As far as surrounding council areas are concerned, I bought a property at Port Stephens in February but I have had no developable assets in Swansea, Port Stephens or Charlestown over the past four years.’’
This article first appeared on www.theherald.com.au
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