What have we learned from the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)? Joe McKenzie finds out.
The ICAC investigation into the former NSW Labor government has become a fixture on the nightly news, as minister after minister is dragged before the inquiry. For those not obsessively following the ICAC hashtag on Twitter, here are the crib notes.
1.Eddie Obeid and his family were either staggeringly lucky or staggeringly corrupt.
While NSW Labor was in power in 2008, the Obeids made some incredibly profitable property purchases in the Bylong Valley, wherein seemingly random pieces of farmland that they bought kept being opened to mining tenders. Many of the decisions regarding this tender seemed tailor-made to suit the Obeid family’s interests, particularly the size of the areas under tender. One of the most interesting pieces of evidence that has come out of this investigation is that the Obeid family were in possession of strictly confidential maps of potential mine sites in the Bylong Valley. How did they get these maps, and more broadly, why were they on the receiving end of so many beneficial decisions? Well…
2. Friendship is magic, especially friendship with the minister in charge of mining.
Evidence has revealed that it was the Minister for Mineral and Forest Resources (a position that Eddie Obeid had previously held), Ian Macdonald, who played a huge role in making several of these critical decisions regarding the mining tender that the Obeids so bountifully profited from. And as luck would have it, Ian Macdonald is a close political ally of Eddie Obeid. A lot of the evidence has been focussed on showing the extent of that relationship and also trying to prove that Macdonald stood to receive considerable kickbacks from these deals. Fun fact: Ian Macdonald appeared before ICAC last year for having sex with a prostitute paid for by businessman, and Obeid associate, Ron Medich, who himself is accused of soliciting the murder of Michael McGurk.
3. Obeid had extraordinary control over the NSW Labor caucus.
Eddie Obeid was the leader of the sub-faction of the NSW Right called the Terrigals, which, apart from being a great band name, refers to Obeid’s house in Terrigal where the sub-faction first met. The Terrigals controlled the Right faction, which in turn controlled the caucus, which in turn controlled the NSW Government. Their power was most conspicuous when they orchestrated the sacking of the then Premier, Nathan Rees. The reason? Nathan Rees had tried to sack Ian Macdonald. Obeid’s influence over the caucus was well known before this inquiry, but it does seem even more sinister in light of the corrupt deals he is alleged to have made on the back of his role as a factional power broker.
4. This investigation is only the beginning.
The ICAC is not a criminal court and can only recommend charges. Therefore, if Obeid and his associates are found to have acted in a corrupt manner there will almost certainly be an actual trial that will stretch on for months. Beyond that, however, it is worth noting that corruption only exists in an environment that permits it. Thus, if corrupt behaviour was being practiced by Obeid et al. in the area of mining licenses then it’s not implausible for there to have been corruption elsewhere. So keep your eyes on Eddie Obeid— this is a story worth following.