NSW politics: corrupt and corrupting

Issue 
Eddie Obeid has gone before ICAC before.

Institutionalised corruption in New South Wales stretches from the Rum Corps of the late 18th century to present-day politicians from the Labor and Liberal parties.

The pattern has been consistent: public exposure, followed by the confected outrage of “shocked” politicians that comes with contrite promises of reforms. After a suitable time has elapsed, the cycle repeats.

Among the “colourful politicians” who have served the people of NSW so well in the past are former Liberal premier Sir Robert Askin, infamously associated with illegal gambling and Sydney’s criminal milieu in the 60s and 70s.

He was followed by Labor’s Rex Jackson, who must be the only Minister for Corrective Services to go to jail for accepting bribes to release prisoners from jail in order to finance his insatiable gambling appetite.

Last year there was a parade of Labor politicians before the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) as it investigated the dodgy awarding of coal licences by former Labor minister Ian Macdonald. Criminal charges are said to pending.

Now it’s the turn of the Liberal Party — although not without a little help from its Labor Party friends.

ICAC has announced two new inquiries. The first involves the former Liberal Party Resources and Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher; his fellow central coast Liberal MPs Darren Webber and Christopher Spence; and two Hartcher staff members, Tim Koelma and Raymond Carter.

They are accused of “corruptly receiving payments in return for favouring the interests of those responsible for the payments”.

ICAC will also examine whether MPs and their staff solicited, received and failed to disclose political donations, including from prohibited donors.

The second inquiry, which will examine people associated with a company called Australian Water Holdings (AWH), is linked to the first. Former Labor ministers Joe Tripodi, Tony Kelly, and, surprisingly enough, Eddie Obeid, are being investigated for trying to misuse their influence over a deal between AWH and Sydney Water.

The Obeid family has an investment in AWH, which holds contracts with state-owned Sydney Water to provide infrastructure in north-west Sydney. Its chief executive is the prominent Liberal Nicholas Di Girolamo, who was also on the board of Sydney Water until he resigned following the ICAC announcement.

Di Girolamo and Eddie Obeid jnr are under investigation for allegedly creating “a false deed of confirmation with a view to misleading ICAC”.

AWH is accused of channelling secret donations to the Liberal Party alongside its declared donations, which amounted to $114,000 in the previous term of parliament. The company reportedly donated $67,000 after three private dinners with Premier Barry O’Farrell in 2010.

Federal Liberal Party assistant treasurer Arthur Sinodinos is a past chairman of AWH who unsuccessfully tried to get the premier to intervene in a dispute between the company and Sydney Water, relating to the proposed cancellation of the north-west infrastructure contract. He wasn’t mentioned in ICAC’s announcement, but it seems certain that he will be called to appear.

But corruption doesn’t end with corrupt politicians — it begins with them. Largely fuelled by mining and property interests, it permeates the whole structural apparatus of government.

For many people in NSW fighting to save the built and natural environment, the EPA
doesn’t stand for the Environmental Protection Agency but is an acronym for Every Project Approved.

Replacing bent politicians with others from political parties where corruption is institutionalised is no solution to the crisis of corruption in NSW. The only known remedy is people’s power.