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Crikey Clarifier: who are the Obeids and what did they do?

Who is Eddie Obeid, and why is his family now embroiled in a corruption scandal that goes to the heart of NSW politics? Crikey’s courtroom scribe records the history and argues why you should care.

New South Wales Labor kingpin Eddie Obeid took the stand today for his long-awaited appearance at the Independent Commission Against Corruption examining party heavies, their influence and dodgy deals inside and outside Parliament. So who is Obeid, why is his family so powerful and what might bring them down?

Who are the Obeids?

The Obeids are a large Sydney family with nine children, headed by former NSW parliamentarian Eddie Obeid Snr. Eddie Snr, 69, was a member of the NSW Legislative Council from 1991 to 2011. His power base at the time of entry was his ownership of Arabic newspaper¬†El Telegraph. This gave him power to influence the votes of the burgeoning Lebanese populations in Sydney’s south-west. The Obeid family belong to the Lebanese Maronite Catholic Church.

Obeid’s contribution to the good governance of NSW is negligible and it has often been said that rather than serve the Australian Labor Party he ensured that it served him. For 20 years he did little in Parliament other than lead the dominant right-wing subfaction of the NSW branch, the so-called Terrigals (named after the site of its first meeting, the Obeid’s luxury beachhouse in Terrigal on the Central Coast).

The NSW Right’s motto was “whatever it takes” and for decades it, led by Obeid and the Terrigals, cemented its grip on power by branch stacking, directing votes and rewarding members with substantial benefits. Almost completely ideology-free, it existed only to gain and keep power, generating for him the nickname “He Who Must be Obeid”.

What does Eddie Obeid own?

Obeid and his relatives, through a network of trusts and family companies, own a large number of properties in Sydney, the Bylong Valley (north of Sydney) and Terrigal. Obeid and wife Judith live in a heritage Hunters Hill mansion valued at $10 million and he drives a $400,000 Mercedes.

Why are the Obeids in the news? 

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption is currently investigating “corruption on a scale probably unexceeded since the days of the Rum Corp”, in the words of Counsel Assisting, Geoffrey Watson SC. It’s been alleged the Obeids and their associates stood to profit by almost $100 million from inside knowledge about mining tenders provided by former resources minister Ian Macdonald, a close friend.

ICAC has also heard allegations the Obeids obscured their interests in the projects through complex company structures and that family members were given substantial loans from family trusts. On Friday the Commission heard the family had struck an agreement just before the last election to take a secret one-third share in a water company applying for a billion-dollar privatisation deal with the NSW government.

Moses Obeid gave evidence last week, and Eddie Snr is due in the witness box today, followed by the other sons.

Should Julia Gillard be worried?

According to the latest polls, federal Labor stands to lose about 10 seats in NSW, largely due to the deep and abiding loathing of the last NSW Labor government, dominated by Obeid and his henchmen. Their faction ran the state like a private club, anointing and executing premiers on a whim — they have poisoned the Labor brand in NSW so profoundly the next Labor premier may still be at school. Unfortunately for the PM, the headlines from the current ICAC investigation will dominate NSW politics right up until election day.

What will happen after the current ICAC inquiry? 

The commissioner will release a report containing recommendations. If charges are recommended, a brief will go to Director of Public Prosecutions. Court actions stemming from this inquiry could go on for years.

14
  • 1
    Stephen
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    None of them will go to jail, and none of them will have to give the loot back.

    The Lance Armstrongs of Australian politics, they are.

  • 2
    Andrew McMillen
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this Margot - helpful.

  • 3
    ianjohnno
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Thankyou. A useful article.

    I still wonder why such people join the ALP?

  • 4
    Warren Joffe
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Tony Mokbel has or had an uncle who is/was a Maronite priest. One wouldn’t expect the Obeids to have been so incautious as to have anything to do with a low life like Mokbel but it would be exceedingly interesting (entertaining to the disinterested not to say irrresponsible bystander) if there was some association.

  • 5
    paddy
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the info Margot.

  • 6
    Steve777
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this brief but informative summary.

  • 7
    Holden Back
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Most of Australia’s Maronites are at least distantly related by marriage, Warren Joffe. Your point? Or are you just using racial profiling as a trolling technique?

  • 8
    Michael Lines
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    I’m always amazed how these kinds of people assume that we will never find out. The arrogance of the very powerful. Whether they ever actually pay for their criminality is, of course, a separate matter.

  • 9
    Hamis Hill
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    Regarding profiling surely there are left-wing Catholics.
    Why is their religion never highlighted in articles?
    Morris Iemma, for example, a supposed enemy of the Obeids but his religion never mentioned?

  • 10
    zut alors
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    An Informative piece, thanks. Enjoyed the perspicacious line:

    …they have poisoned the Labor brand in NSW so profoundly the next Labor premier may still be at school.’

  • 11
    gapot
    Posted Tuesday, 5 February 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    The big question must be, why have the media been sitting on their hands regarding NSW corruption for the last 15 years. Every body knew what was going on, could be a little money changing hands there too.

  • 12
    Karen
    Posted Tuesday, 5 February 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    A nice succinct summary, Margot! If criminally charged and found guilty of offences relating to this fraud, Obeid and sons face gaol time. Big time.

    Shame that one can’t systematically bull doze the Obeid properties in front of the Obeid family members and force them to line up in soup kitchens. This is the only thing that would actually hurt, apart from gaol time and the social approbrium that follows.

  • 13
    Stuart Midgley
    Posted Tuesday, 5 February 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    As interesting as the corruption allegations are I think it might be the money flows to family members that could lead to the first convictions.

    The ATO will no doubt be very interested in multi-million dollar, zero-interest, non-repayable ‘loans’ and the tax returns of the people who received them.

  • 14
    David Sanderson
    Posted Tuesday, 5 February 2013 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Let’s not forget that it was Graeme Richardson who set Obeid on his path as a useful tool in his branch-stacking machinations. How can he still be floating around the media as a supposedly credible political pundit?

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