ICAC: NSW Labor’s “Dirty Duo” Charged Over Misconduct

AFTER MONTHS OF bad press for the Liberal Party in NSW — with 10 of its MPs ensnared in ICAC investigations into official misconduct — NSW Labor’s notorious “dirty duo” of powerbroker Eddie Obeid and former minister Ian MacDonald are to be prosecuted, having been charged today with corruption-related offences. It turns the focus back onto the ALP, on whose watch NSW’s business and government spheres grew rotten to their core.

Just a few general remarks from me on this subject tonight; in my mind there’s not too much room for any other opinion on official corruption than outright condemnation, and with these matters now set to go before the Courts, I don’t want to say anything that might be prejudicial to any trial that ensues.

I think I have been adequately clear with readers that when it comes to the cleanliness and integrity of government, my views are unequivocal, and aimed at recalcitrants without fear nor favour: public office is a duty and an honour, not an opportunity for self-enrichment; and where matters of official misconduct are concerned I really couldn’t care whether your political colour is red, blue, green, yellow or whatever — do the crime and frankly, you deserve to have the book thrown at you.

It seems such a fate will now befall NSW Labor’s so-called “dirty duo,” with ALP heavyweight and powerbroker Eddie Obeid and former NSW minister Ian MacDonald both charged today with misconduct in public office as the ICAC investigations that have dragged on for the past few years reach their zenith; the pair may be innocent as they claim, or they may be guilty as sin, but either way, they are finally set to have their day in Court once and for all.

Both of these gentlemen — along with former union figure John Maitland — will appear in Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court for a mention on 18 December.

Careers — from the top down, and starting with former Premier Barry O’Farrell — have been tarnished, damaged and/or destroyed by the present round of ICAC investigations and, happily, no quarter appears to have been given, nor allowances made, for the niceties nor the sensitivities of political allegiance or for the shifting sands that underlie structures of power in NSW.

ICAC has pulled no punches, with prominent business identities from NSW and  beyond hauled into the mire of misconduct along with political figures on both sides of the chamber in Macquarie Street and the federal Assistant Treasurer in Tony Abbott’s Liberal government, who has stood aside pending the finalisation of investigations into allegations of impropriety levelled against him.

But the big-ticket item was always going to be the Labor names long mentioned openly as central to the festering edifice that sprang up during 16 years of Labor rule, with Obeid in particular said to have benefited to the tune of millions of dollars as companies owned by his family allegedly profited from a litany of favourable decisions by the then state government.

I have welcomed, in this column, the resignations of those from the Liberal Party found to have engaged in improper conduct; I do think the party in NSW has been severely damaged by the revelations that have ensnared 10 of its MPs in the web of impropriety that was supposedly going to tip the corruption muck bucket all over Labor and help keep it in opposition for at least a decade.

In fact, as a lifelong Liberal supporter and member of the party for almost 25 years, I’m disgusted by the revelations that centre on some of those in our ranks who are less than upright — and if found guilty of any offence, I’m just as adamant the punishment should be considerable, as it should be for any offence committed by those in the Labor Party.

And there are those (especially in the Left-leaning press) who will argue that the timing of the charges against Obeid and MacDonald is convenient, with a state election due in NSW in four months’ time, to which I would simply observe that if there were anything synthetic in these matters, then a Liberal Premier would not have been forced from office over a bloody bottle of wine. Anyone silly enough to suggest otherwise ought to grow up.

I will confess, however, to a certain sense of relief: having watched (predominantly) Liberal Party identities hauled through the ICAC muck for what seems an eternity, I was beginning to wonder just when (or even if) anything was ever going to come of its inquiries into the Labor figures who were allegedly on the take for years.

Now it’s happening, the circle closes: without fear or favour, those who are alleged to have done the wrong thing — and based on an adequate weight of evidence to warrant laying charges — are being held to account for it.

Far from putting people off politics, or fouling the already low reputation of politicians even further, the general public should be heartened and encouraged by these developments.

It shows that if you do the wrong thing at taxpayers’ expense, sooner or later you will be caught.

And if you’re caught, you will be humiliated, ruined, and — where appropriate — prosecuted for your trouble.

Simple common sense and reason dictates that there will always be someone who gets away with something: so it is in every walk of life, and people are entitled to be angry and frustrated by this unpleasant reality.

But for every one who is caught, the innocent and the swindled can take heart; and for every one brought before the law, the deterrent to others who might follow suit is magnified.

It doesn’t matter whether I think the “dirty duo” are guilty or not; that’s now up to a Court to ascertain.

But for all the scuttlebutt and innuendo and open secrets that have flown around NSW and beyond for many years, this pair of alleged miscreants will finally be forced to explain themselves: and for that, today has been a very, very good day in Sydney indeed.

 

ALP Corruption Scandal: Purge Too Late To Merit Voter Reprieve

AS KEVIN RUDD zips around erecting facades around Labor’s worst legacies and dirtiest laundry, the filthy bomb of Labor corruption is set to detonate; to head off damning ICAC findings into the disgraced NSW branch, Rudd is engineering a purge. It is too little, too late to warrant voter sympathy.

I’ve been reading Sydney’s Daily Telegraph this morning between phone calls, and the latest fix to fool voters — and not just in NSW — is about to get underway.

Readers can access the article I’m alluding to here, and I urge everyone to read it — my remarks are going to be fairly brief and very candid, and I’m not going through the background to all of this again from scratch (I’m a bit time-constrained today).

Firstly, the positives.

Anything that clamps down on union control of anything (other than, of course, unions), or weeds faceless thugs out of our political structures, is to be welcomed.

And corruption — especially in, or adjacent to, public life — should never be tolerated, and to this end the stated intention to stamp this scourge out of the NSW ALP is also welcome.

But readers will excuse my cynicism that this is anything other than a convenient ruse to hoodwink voters into thinking Labor under Kevin Rudd is a changed beast.

For starters, the corruption scandal that has been played out in ICAC hearings had its genesis in activities undertaken by disgraced Labor figures during the period Labor spent in state government in NSW — some of which overlapped with Rudd’s first stint in office.

Moreover, Labor — in NSW and elsewhere — has known for a very long time that the misconduct of the relatively small number of rotten apples in its barrel would stain the party, and bring to it disgrace and shame.

It has had ample time to address these issues, and opted to do nothing.

Indeed, that misconduct was a contributor to the massive electoral defeat Labor suffered in NSW in 2011.

The point, very simply, is that Rudd (and other senior figures) have now had years to do something about Labor corruption, and the fact the measures Rudd has announced come on the eve of a federal election amounts to little more than a stunt.

It is certainly commendable — but by no means exceptional, judged by ordinary decent standards and common expectations — that NSW Labor is to take “a zero tolerance approach to corruption.”

Yet it raises one very salient question.

Why, if the ALP under Rudd is so hellbent on purging itself of institutionalised corruption and weeding the perpetrators from its ranks, are the measures outlined in the report I have linked to not being rolled out across the Labor Party nationally, and in all states?

An ounce of prevention, after all…

Is a “zero tolerance of corruption” only indicated when the whole thing blows up in your face?

Or are such lofty standards and tough talk only wheeled out when confronted with a difficult federal election campaign?

A cleanup — and cleanout — of the NSW ALP is long overdue and well and truly justified, and this column certainly has no quibble on that point.

But these “reforms,” cynically wheeled out in a brazen attempt to mitigate the extreme gravity of an official anti-corruption investigation’s findings and to curry favour with lost Labor voters, should be properly seen for what they are.

Like everything else Rudd has announced in the past 33 days, this is just another stunt.

And the breathtaking hypocrisy of the Labor Party — in seeking to win votes off its own corruption scandal by attempting to be seen as fixing its own festering mess — deserves the electoral kicking such a scandal, in ordinary circumstances, would rightly await whichever party was responsible for it.

 

Federal Intervention Into NSW ALP Rudd’s Latest Stunt

TOUGH-SOUNDING rhetoric from Kevin Rudd about overhauling the ALP is not only meaningless, but the party won’t brook it; in trying to eke votes from an “intervention” into NSW Labor, Rudd is playing with shadows, and ensuring he will be overthrown as PM again if Labor is re-elected federally.

In 2007, then-opposition leader Kevin Rudd won an election with a campaign, which — stripped of whatever effect WorkChoices had — was essentially predicated on slogans and soundbites.

If Labor won, the Prime Minister would be “Kevin ’07” who, in an effort to assure John Howard’s voters that he was safe, proclaimed himself an “economic conservative.” There would be an “education revolution.” “Kevin ’07″‘s slick, hip outfit would take action against climate change, end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, stop the “obscenity” of women and children locked up in detention, and — in a retrospectively laughable proclamation on government expenditure — memorably thundered that “this reckless spending must stop.”

On and on it went, and to the extent such an approach can’t and won’t work in 2013 — there is the small matter of a record of six truly shocking years of Labor government — it doesn’t matter, because born-again Kevin has fixed on a new trick to replace his slogans.

Stunts.

Big ones, little ones, stunts with carefully concealed punchlines and stunts that are too clever by half; cheap, tacky stunts will hoodwink millions of Australians into voting Labor.

It’s the principle in play when it comes to Rudd’s demands that, effectively, Tony Abbott should participate in a debate on economics so Rudd can bully him over Liberal Party policy, whilst putting forward nothing of his own for scrutiny.

People will swallow the Rudd line that Tony is running scared and will vote Labor instead, goes the theory.

Now, Rudd has come up with an equally jackarsed and similarly half-baked stunt to woo voters in New South Wales: a federal intervention into the NSW branch of the ALP.

If there is one thing anyone who has ever dealt with the ALP knows, it’s that it is — to quote Lord Fisher, the head of the British Navy during the first World War — ruthless, relentless and remorseless.

Whatever its faults and whatever its failings, the ALP isn’t commonly referred to as “a machine” for nothing; its tribal nature, its factions and its grounding in the union movement are often its sources of great weakness, but they also underpin the Labor Party’s greatest strength: resilience.

Rudd — a specimen with an excessively established view of his own importance — has been returned to the Prime Ministership by his party for the purpose of winning an election.

And that’s it.

But Rudd harbours different views; he believes that his return is evidence of his party’s ultimate dependence on him for its survival, and this seems to have convinced him that he’s free to throw his weight around wherever he likes.

His target — NSW Labor — is correctly identified as a national embarrassment to the ALP.

But funnily enough, it is also the division of the party that masterminded his dumping as Prime Minister in the first place.

NSW is, of course, the state that had no fewer than four Labor Premiers in six years.

It is the state that recorded the biggest defeat* of a state Labor government in modern political history back in 2011.

It’s the state that has seen a cabinet minister from that government (Milton Orkopoulos) jailed for paedophilia offences, and a parade of others through an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) inquiry into corrupt practices that are a daily source of damning headlines for the ALP.

Rudd seems to think that by announcing a federal intervention in NSW, voters will somehow be impressed enough to swarm to his banner at the ballot box in a couple of months’ time.

This view tends to overlook historical precedent.

Gough Whitlam — as federal leader of the ALP — instigated a federal intervention into Labor’s dysfunctional Victorian branch in 1967; Labor in Victoria had long been moribund, out of office at the state level since 1955 and wrecking the party’s prospects federally, virtually costing it government singlehandedly in 1961 and 1969.

It would be 1980 before the effects of Whitlam’s intervention would deliver a majority of Victoria’s federal seats to Labor; and a state election win would take longer, finally coming in 1982 under John Cain Jr.

There are other instances of federal intervention I could just as easily use to illustrate the point; properly undertaken, these interventions are essentially root-and-branch restructures that are completed with a lot of acrimony and a lot of spilt blood, and take years — not weeks — to bed down.

Nonetheless, Rudd is going to have an intervention in NSW in July that will help engineer an election victory by November at the latest, and probably much sooner.

Can anyone believe this? It’s hardly credible or plausible.

Apparently, guidelines being laid down in NSW as part of the Rudd intervention include “a zero tolerance of corruption.”

Does this mean corruption in the ALP is OK until it gets in the way of winning elections?

Why isn’t “a zero tolerance of corruption” a standard and non-negotiable principle of the Labor Party across the country, rather than just in NSW?

Is it for the same reasons the union movement is ready to fight to stop a Liberal government imposing the same standards of governance required of business under the Corporations Act on their organisations in the wake of the scandal engulfing the Health Services Union?

Anyone who thinks what Rudd is doing in NSW is anything other than a charade is kidding themselves.

And populist Kevin — the so-called People’s Prime Minister — is attempting another reform within the ALP too: election of the parliamentary leader by its rank and file members.

As the story goes, Rudd is seeking to adopt the system used by Labour in the UK, whereby MPs, the trade unions and the membership all get a vote on the leadership that is evenly weighted.

Allowing branch members a say in electing the leader is popular, yes? In theory, yes.

But in practice, it doesn’t work: British Labour is saddled with a leader in Ed Miliband who seems destined to allow an unpopular Conservative administration to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat; too timid, too left-wing and too facile, Miliband was heavily backed by unions against his more urbane (and electable) brother David, who has since left politics and deprived British Labour of what could well have been its next Prime Minister.

That Conservative administration, in turn — led by David Cameron — is dominated by a Conservative Party that opened its own leadership election arrangements up to the rank and file in 2003.

In that system, MPs select two candidates who are voted on by members to elect a leader; Cameron and his predecessor Michael Howard were presented to the membership as unanimous choices, avoiding a ballot, but it doesn’t take a political genius to see that such a practice is heavily geared toward the triumph of populism over substance and competence.

In fact — if we stick with the UK for a bit — those changes on both sides to strip MPs of the exclusive right to elect a parliamentary leader were introduced by unpopular leaders who potentially stood to gain from diluting the influence of their colleagues in future leadership contests (Iain Duncan Smith on the Tory side, and Gordon Brown in the Labour Party).

Oddly enough, that gearing is precisely the reason Rudd wants to go down such a path.

Rudd wants to ensure that never again can he be stripped of his leadership as a result of faceless party thugs controlling the votes of union-allied MPs in a party room vote.

At face value and to the outsider, it all sounds wonderfully democratic and inclusive — as, of course, it is meant to.

But the reality is that it will never happen.

Like the sternly phrased intervention in NSW, Rudd’s attempts at reform of Labor leadership ballots will not be tolerated by the party machine he leads.

The machine men destroyed the leadership of Simon Crean ten years ago in response to reforms he enacted, and that was simply to dilute the union share of votes at party conferences from 60% to 50%.

What Rudd is trying to do is exponentially more far-reaching.

Crean, at least, is and was a born creature of the Labor Party, its tribal ways, its factional structures and its union history. Rudd is nothing of the sort.

And just as it was capable of chewing Crean up and spitting him out, so too is the ALP machine capable of doing exactly the same thing to Rudd.

Obviously, it has already done so once.

And whilst Rudd clearly thinks what he is up to will curry favour with voters, the reality is that it won’t; people are fed up with Labor, and rather than attract votes, Rudd risks a charge a la Bob Hawke of “if you can’t govern yourselves, you can’t govern the country.”

If Rudd somehow manages to pull off a surprise election victory, his moment of glory will be brief; the faceless men of the ALP — sensing the danger he poses to their established order — will quickly and ruthlessly dispatch him from the Prime Ministership, safe in the knowledge that three years are available to work out how to win a fourth term in 2016.

After all, they will have done it once before — in 2010 — and ultimately have gotten away with it.

Nobody should believe Labor is beholden to Rudd if he wins this year in any case, but by his actions Rudd is making it a virtual certainty that he will be knifed, again, in a midnight coup should he secure another term for his party.

So much for Kevin Rudd. So much for his slogans and stunts and smart answers.

When it comes to the Labor Party, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

*based on Labor’s share of the two-party preferred vote, not its proportion of seats won.

NSW Newspoll: 60-40 To O’Farrell; Food For Thought

JUST to add some spice to things — and to the wait for tomorrow night’s Newspoll — we have a NSW poll showing the O’Farrell government holding its 20 point lead after preferences; in a state set to haemorrhage seats to the federal Coalition, this is an ominous portent for the Gillard government.

In the most populous state in the country, with virtually a third of all seats in federal Parliament, a big loss of seats in NSW will signal the death knell of the present Labor government; a big loss of seats, however, is precisely what seems to be on the cards.

At the state level, Barry O’Farrell’s government continues to retain almost all of the support it recorded when elected two years ago, leading Labor 46-27 on primary votes, and by 60-40 when (optional) preferences are taken into account.

On the “preferred Premier” measure, it is fairly clear the ALP would be looking for a new leader (if it had, broadly speaking, any MPs); on this measure O’Farrell leads opposition leader John Robertson 48-19, which in effect means that the “undecided” vote is nearly twice as popular as Robertson is himself.

It’s pretty clear these sorts of numbers are being fuelled to some extent by the daily circus/freak show/horror story that is ICAC; the daily hearings into the activities of allegedly corrupt former Labor ministers is feeding an incessant stream of toxic headlines into the Sydney media, and with them passes Labor’s election hopes in NSW for perhaps at least another ten years.

Even so, O’Farrell’s is yet another conservative state government that has been subjected to vicious smear campaigns by the ALP, its operatives and associates; its poll numbers staggered initially before righting themselves to some extent last year, to the point O’Farrell’s huge majority would stay almost intact at a new election based on these figures.

It’s important to Gillard because just as she and her cronies are desperately searching for (and inventing) anything they believe will provide a circuit breaker in the run to this year’s federal election, NSW is probably going to be one of the areas more resistant to their efforts — despite being run at the state level by the Liberal Party for two years.

For starters, it’s Tony Abbott’s home state, where he holds an extremely safe North Shore electorate and has done for 20 years; I don’t think Labor’s fabricated “dirt” on Abbott holds much credibility at the best of times, but on his own home turf in Sydney, even less so.

Labor in recent years has relied on unpopular state Liberal regimes as a buttress to its federal strategies, and vice versa; where the regimes fail to offer fodder in this regard the ALP is only too happy to set its creative minds to work.

But in this instance, it’s arguable O’Farrell’s government hasn’t even lost any skin at all since its election in March 2011, such is its resilience in latest polling.

And far from offering fertile ground to create something of their own, Labor’s ongoing humiliation at ICAC — as senior former members of its ranks are hauled into the dock and interrogated — merely fills the arsenal of its opponents, and renders any “interesting material” it might come up with a commodity best left well away from the cold light of day.

Politics being what it is — and I’m thinking here of segues, symbols and allusions — the ICAC hearings also cast a nice pall over a myriad of allegations, pending or actively in progress, against several prominent figures in the federal ALP and/or persons very close to them.

All this comes as the Murdoch press last week ran a story on the ALP’s planned sandbagging operations for the coming federal poll; the problem here is that NSW was effectively subjected to the so-called sandbag in 2010, and the accelerating movement away from Labor in the Premier State since then has been rocketing.

There are at least a dozen Labor-held federal seats in NSW that are at serious risk of falling to the Coalition at the federal election later this year; these alone are enough to deliver Tony Abbott government with an 18-seat majority if the rest of Australia simply returns the same results as last time — and clearly, that isn’t going to happen.

I’m on the record as suggesting the Gillard government is terminal — unsalvageable — and whichever way you cut it, the Labor Party across Australia is a pitiful mess.

Even so, if you’re a political leader seemingly on a hiding to nothing, there are bad polls and then there are really bad polls.

“Everyone” is waiting to see what Newspoll reveals of federal voting intentions in 24 hours’ time, and I’m waiting for it too; but it’s surveys like this one that are occasionally missed.

The state Liberals in WA are recording numbers every bit as good as these two weeks out from a state election in which they may well bury Labor for a generation: those poll numbers, in a traditionally conservative state leaning in its preferred direction, are largely insignificant in the wider context.

This NSW Newspoll, however, probably offers a glimpse of what tomorrow night’s federal poll will show.

Either way, it almost certainly indicates NSW — federally — will be an absolute bloodbath for the Labor Party; should that eventuality come to pass, it’ll mean a hell of a lot of extra seats for Gillard to win, in hostile territory elsewhere, to offset it.