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Untangling a web of misdeed and corruption

31 August 2014 One Comment

REVIEW

POLITICS

HE WHO MUST BE OBEID

Kate McClymont and Linton Besser

Vintage, $34.99

In writing a lengthly book about a deeply corrupt politician whose tentacles extended throughout New South Wales, and beyond, Kate McClymont and Linton Besser have had to rely on assistance from almost every quarter of the nation. This includes a swag of sitting and former state and federal politicians who spoke to the prize-winning journalists on and off the record.

Former NSW Labor minister Edward Moses (“Eddie”) Obeid, a Lebanese Maronite Christian immigrant and former taxi driver with nine children, treated the state as his personal fiefdom. His brazen misdeeds, on a scale not seen in Australia since the days of John Macarthur and the Rum Corps, make utterly fascinating reading.

Obeid and his corrupt former colleagues Ian Macdonald, Joe Tripodi and Tony Kelly were at the centre of ten public corruption inquiries that lasted from 2011 to 2014. In telling this explosive story of secret family and other networks of influence of arguably the most corrupt politician in Australian history, it is good to know that McClymont and Besser have been heartened by the knowledge that there still remain “people in politics who are genuinely concerned about the public interest, not just the next score”. Indeed, these are precisely the people who have helped them the most.

If anyone doubts that, in concert with his extended family and friends, the odious Odeid had developed, and fed off, a culture of serious corruption in the state, this finely researched book removes any sliver of a question. This includes evidence of Obeid and his family arranging dodgy and dubious multi-million dollar mining deals and highly lucrative leases of cafes and restaurants at Circular Quay.

What I found particularly revealing in this fine book was the key role of NSW-based Labor Right heavyweight, and notorious “fixer”, Graham Richardson in sponsoring Obeid’s meteoric rise through the Labor Party; the graphic details of the enormously “helpful” connections Obeid fostered with the rich and powerful, and also of what this insightful analysis wryly describes as his family’s “terrible luck with fires”. The latter included the infamous destruction by fire in 1993 of the printing press of Offset Alpine , a company that also involved Richardson and disgraced Sydney stockbroker, the late Rene Rivkin.

The reality is that had the hearings of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) never happened, it is likely that, as McClymont and Besser put it: “Obeid would have retired as a controversial figure, much like his mentor Graham Richardson, but still as an elder of the ALP.” As they suggest, Obeid might even have had his own TV talk program , along the lines of his friend’s SKY chat show, Richo.

At the time of writing this review it is unclear what will be the repercussions of ICAC’s findings against him. Arrogant to the end, Odeid still boasts that there is only a “one per cent chance” that he would ever be prosecuted, let alone convicted.

Who knows, he could be right.

But should anyone be so foolish as to think that recent large-scale corruption in NSW is exclusively a Labor affair, in the latter half of this year significant rogue elements in the Liberal Party are being shredded, almost weekly, by ICAC.

He Who Must Be Obeid is one of the most compelling works of investigative journalism that I have read for years. On the downside, it seems a shame the book contains no index and that McClymont and Besser constantly repeat one of my bugbears , the annoying and utterly unnecessary phrase “‘of course”‘.

‘He Who Must be Obeid’ was withdrawn from sale for legal reasons last week. A corrected edition has been published. Emeritus Professor of History & Politics at Griffith University, Ross Fitzgerald is the author 36 books.

‘The Sydney Morning Herald’, August 30-31, 2014, Spectrum. Books, p 25

One Comment »

  • ross (author) said:

    One of the most corrupt politicians in Australian history – former state minister Eddie Obeid, known as “he who must be obeyed” – will finally be prosecuted after an inquiry found he lobbied colleagues over leases for restaurants without revealing that his family owned them.

    Mr Obeid and fellow minister Ian Macdonald, who has also been charged, practiced corruption in the state of New South Wales that was “on a scale probably unexceeded since the days of the Rum Corps [a colonial-era corps that had a monopoly on the liquor trade]”, a corruption inquiry heard in 2012.

    Mr Macdonald, known as “Sir Lunchalot”, has been charged over the granting of a lucrative mining licence but may face further charges after receiving the services of a prostitute as apparent payment for assisting a property developer. The prostitute, named Tiffanie, told the inquiry the encounter was so repulsive she wanted to vomit.

    Mr Obeid has previously dared prosecutors to charge him and appeared defiant outside his sandstone mansion in Sydney. Branded “The Godfather” by the media, he has insisted he is the victim of a political witch-hunt.
    “I’m innocent in every instance,” he said.
    “I have no concern whatsoever that in a court of law we’ll be able to fight the evidence, and I’m very confident.”

    Mr Obeid, 71, a long-serving Labor MP in the New South Wales state government, was born in Lebanon and worked in Sydney as a taxi driver before taking control of a local Arabic newspaper. He served as an MP from 1991 to 2011, while he and his family built up a sizable portfolio of businesses and properties. During his time in parliament, he became a factional kingpin and exercised influence over numerous MPs and ministers, who relied on him for their positions.

    “[He] treated the state as his personal fiefdom,” historian Ross Fitzgerald wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald in August.

    Mr Obeid’s influence is said to extend to his small hometown of Matrite in north Lebanon, where he reportedly owns a $US1 million palace.

    A corruption inquiry in June found that Mr Obeid “misused his position as an MP” and sought to lobby other MPs and public servants for favourable decisions affecting his family’s restaurant leases in Circular Quay, a popular harbour-side tourist district. He could still face charges over other corrupt dealings investigated by the inquiry.

    Mr Obeid said the corruption inquiries were “nothing but sham inquiries”.

    Jonathan Pearlman, The Daily Telegraph Sydney, November 21, 2014

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