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.