The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has again found former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid guilty of corruption.
On June 5, he was found corrupt over the non-disclosure of the ownership of cafes at Circular Quay and attempts to renew the leases without them going to tender.
Obeid was found to have misused his position as an MP to lobby ministers and public servants on several occasions concerning the leases which he and his family secretly owned. ICAC recommended that he be charged with “misconduct in public office”.
There are now four separate corruption findings against Obeid.
He was also found corrupt for lobbying former treasurer Michael Costa to use a company called Direct Health Solutions, in which his family had a secret financial interest.
Other findings relate to the granting of a coal lease over his family farm in the Bylong Valley, north of Bathurst, and influencing the actions of two public servants over the water allocation for the farm.
There is also the possibility of further findings over the Obeid family’s secret stake in Australian Water Holdings.
Despite these findings over a period of 10 months, the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), which was granted a $2 million increase to its budget, has yet to lay any charges.
Over the past two and a half years at least 42 people have been found corrupt by ICAC, but only two have been found guilty of an offence and no custodial sentences have resulted.
There have been no charges laid against former Labor ministers Ian Macdonald, Brian Langton and Tony Kelly as well as former Nationals leader Wal Murray and minister Ian Causley. The DPP has also declined to prosecute former Labor MP Angela D’Amore for misconduct over the misuse of staff entitlements.
When a successful prosecution was made, in the case of former Labor MP Karyn Paluzzano for falsely claiming parliamentary entitlements and giving false and misleading testimony to ICAC, she received a sentence of one year’s home detention.
Relations between the DPP and ICAC have reportedly been “strained” but according to the DPP’s annual report they are supposed to provide requests for advice, which includes “large-volume briefs”, within six to 12 months.
NSW Premier Mike Baird is reported as saying he is open to looking at legislative changes to make it easier to launch corruption prosecutions. He is also reportedly considering whether politicians found guilty of corruption should keep their parliamentary superannuation.
But as Green Left Weekly has previously said, establishing a separate body with the sole function of investigating and prosecuting criminal charges arising from ICAC reports is a solution that is available now. The major impediment to its implementation is lack of political will.
This is clearly demonstrated by the stance taken by the two big parties in NSW over donations from property developers that were banned four years ago after allegations concerning developers and Wollongong City Council.
It turns out that property developers are allowed to donate to the NSW branch of any party provided that the party receiving the donation declares that the donation is for federal campaigns.
Yet federal and state regulators are unable to say if anyone is policing claims that the money is spent according to the laws that apply. The Electoral Funding Authority in NSW maintains that: “It is for the recipient of the donation to decide to what purpose it will be put.”
But with money coming in and out of federal and state party branches it may well be practically impossible to enforce the NSW laws.
Again the solution that readily presents itself is to prohibit donations from property developers at the federal level — but it would be unwise for anyone to hold their breath until this happens.