Carlo's Corner: The problem with the 'lesser evil' is all the evil

Former NSW Labor minister Eddie Obeid is facing ICAC hearings over corruption allegations.

Naturally, once Julia Gillard called the federal election for September 14, it was all hands on deck in Labor to spruik the party and its many great achievements to ensure Tony Abbott is denied keys to The Lodge.

And so Labor's federal vice-president Tony Sheldon was straight onto it with a speech to fire up the troops, telling members of Young Labor's right-wing faction on February 2 that the party faced a “potentially catastrophic situation” due to systemic corruption by “B-Grade” politicians in NSW.

In his speech detailing all his party had to offer working people, Sheldon declared of NSW Labor: “Like cockroaches, B-grade politicians are able to thrive on the corruption and detritus that lies under the dishwasher.”

These inspiring words were no doubt met with a standing ovation and rousing version of the Red Flag.

Sheldon's insistence on the need for far-reaching reform to combat deeply ingrained corruption inside NSW Labor must have shocked his audience. Young people sure as hell don't join Labor Right to be told the queue to get their snouts in the trough must be abolished.

Such is the ugly reality of the Labor Party that no amount of pleading that the Liberals are worse can cover it up. Yes, the Liberals are worse — but a stinking, corrupt and morally bankrupt Labor Party is no defence from the Liberals.

And there is a key flaw with the whole concept of backing a “lesser evil”. See if you can guess what it is. It is hinted at in the very phrase. It is in one of the two words. And it isn't “lesser”.

The problem with the “lesser evil” is that it still involves evil. Call me a hopeless idealist, but supporting evil has never struck me as a good starting point for anyone but comic book super villains or Gina Rinehart.

And if you want a definition of evil in politics, you could do a lot worse than follow the Independent Commission Against Corruption hearings into serious allegations of systemic corrupt practices by NSW Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid and former Labor minister Ian Macdonald.

Obeid, of course, denies corrupt practices. He is, presumably, just really good at guessing ministerial decisions that have, by coincidence, enriched his family and friends. And millions of dollars of undeclared income is an accounting error anyone can make.

But it is not just the allegations of corruption in-and-of-themselves that are so concerning. Consider the fact that Macdonald is alleged to have earned $4 million in kickbacks by approving a coal mining project for Cascade Coal.

Then consider the fact that climate change, in which coal mined in Australia is a significant factor, is already wrecking havoc on the planet, with the World Health organisation estimating it is already responsible for more than 150,000 deaths annually.

And then consider just how much “evil” is “lesser” enough to accept.

These are the two problems with “lesser evilism”. First, it does not even work. Supporting Eddie Obeid did not save us from Barry O'Farrell, it led to Barry O'Farrell. And Campbell Newman. And Ted Baillieu. And soon, if the polls don't turn around, to Tony Abbott.

Second, the planet does not care if practices destroying it come from a “lesser” evil or a greater one. Residents of a Pacific Island get no comfort from the fact that a “lesser evil” hand signed the coalmining contracts condemning their homeland to becoming uninhabitable due to rising sea levels.

Maybe it is time we embraced a bold and original idea — and gave “no evil” a crack for once.

Read more from Carlo Sands.