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How Eddie Obeid ran NSW (but was silenced in court)

Finally, the man who ran NSW Labor — and perhaps the state — was defending himself at the ICAC inquiry. The political class had waited a long time to see Eddie Obeid take the stand.

Defiant. Surly. Combative. Former New South Wales politician Eddie Obeid finally got into the witness box at the Independent Commission Against Corruption this morning and behaved badly, demonstrating his deep contempt for the process. It can be very hard for a powerful man to sit on the wrong side of a witness box — and like Silvio Berlusconi and Conrad Black, Obeid is obviously finding it difficult to give up control.

It’s been a fiery morning at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, and those people who lined up for almost two hours to get a seat have not been disappointed. The public gallery is completely full, as is the overflow room on a different floor. And as Obeid took his seat at 10am, complete with OAM badge in his lapel, the room fell totally silent.

By 10.20am, Obeid, his barrister Stuart Littlemore SC and Counsel Assisting Geoffrey Watson SC had all raised their voices, topped off by a strong admonition by the Commissioner David Ipp QC. In years of court reporting, I’ve rarely heard a witness talk over a judge, but Obeid did it several times. “I won’t be intimidated by you … or anyone else,” he said.

Finally, the normally implacable commissioner had had enough, telling the political powerbroker that he had authority over the inquiry, and Obeid was to respect that. Good luck.

But there have been some lighter moments. When counsel assisting asked Obeid the difference between a legal or ethical obligation to disclose something, he said “you do understand the difference, don’t you?”.

Obeid replied “yes, I do have a good understanding of ethics”, prompting loud laughter from the public gallery. Commissioner Ipp jumped in: “Could members of the public gallery please stop laughing, this is not a theatre.”

By the time Geoffrey Watson put to Obeid that he was in a criminal conspiracy with former resources minister Ian Macdonald and the Obeid family to defraud the people of NSW, no one was laughing. He denied it, of course, and things went steadily downhill. By lunchtime the most common phrases in the courtroom were “just answer the question” (Watson) and “I object to that” from Stuart Littlemore, who appears to have breakfasted on Red Bull.

Commissioner Ipp, who is trying to control his frustration, has finally admonished the witness, “can you try and control yourself, you are not in Parliament now!”.

Obeid is scheduled to be in the witness box for two days, but going on the pace of this morning’s proceedings it could be much longer. Ian Macdonald, who has already starred in an ICAC inquiry featuring a young Asian masseuse called Tiffanie, is due to give evidence on Thursday.

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23
  • 1
    paddy
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Judging by your report and Kate McClymont’s twitterfeed, it’s a true tragedy that this inquiry isn’t online like Leveson.
    Talk about pass the popcorn!
    Beats the superbowl hands down.

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

    This not a theatre!”?
    Look at the cast - each wrestling for top billing?
    Godfudda to court jester.

  • 3
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Good point paddy: why isn’t this streamed?

  • 4
    John Bennetts
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    I am loving this, after waiting so long to get to savour this moment. When will the Alan Bond defense of “I don’t remember” be trotted out, or will it be saved for another time and place?

  • 5
    bodie dog
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    It’s great theatre to be sure but:
    1) The inquiry will run to the end of April
    2) Mr Ipp may hand down his findings by May/June
    3) Those findings *may* be referred to the DPP who *may* decide to bring criminal charges against the Obeids

    In other words…months to go and no certainty that the Obeids will ever get charged.

  • 6
    bjb
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    From what has been presented at the inquiry thus far, if some numbers of people don’t end up in a*se pounding jail then there surely is no justice in NSW.

  • 7
    Matt Stevens
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Here we have plain evidence of what the NSW public sniffed in dumping Labor. What is astonishing many of us is the evident ignorance in the O’Farrell Government of what that means.
    Sure, the over-riding of planning processes for casinos and even helicopters is small beer. And no one thinks this is about corruption.
    But O’Farrell is on a slippery, greasy slope. And at the bottom of the muck pit is what we see in ICAC.

  • 8
    Matt Stevens
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Here we have plain evidence of what the NSW public sniffed in dumping Labor. What is astonishing many of us is the evident ignorance in the O’Farrell Government of what that means.
    Sure, the over-riding of planning processes for casinos and even helicopters is small beer. And no one thinks this is about corruption.
    But O’Farrell is on a slippery, greasy slope. And at the bottom of the stinking muck pit is what we see in ICAC.

  • 9
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    If found guilty, I wonder what penalties, apart from gaol time, they could face?

  • 10
    CML
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    In Eddie Obeid’s “native” Lebanon, all this is par for the course. Isn’t that how politicians and the wealthy, of both dominant religions, behave there? All that has happened here is the tranfer of graft and corruption from the middle east where it is endemic.
    Why do we in Australia allow these people to join our political parties and become so powerful? The Obeids need to be taught a lesson about how to behave in a democracy. And we need to teach other budding middle eastern criminals (and their decendents) that behaviour like this is just NOT on in our country.
    I hope they all go to gaol for a very long time, and are forced to refund all the money they ripped off from the people in NSW. Anything less will be a travesty of justice.

  • 11
    GF50
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Hear! Hear! Matt Stevens, the thin edge of the wedge without doubt. Barry has just made it crystal clear whom he intends to favour, but as with the Obeids fear and favour win the day.
    My view is that McDonald will face jail. Financial gain for corruption of due process .
    The Obeids may well be another story. Who and what did they defraud? We know that they did but…..
    They should of course be stripped of all assets, that would be the only thing that could offend/affect them!! Money = power and influence. We have no RICO laws in Australia and through fear and intimidation they did run NSW as a crimminal enterprise.

  • 12
    Adam Bell
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    The reporting is almost as bad. 20 Days left on my trial. You guys pay for these articles?!

  • 13
    AR
    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Margot Defarge, our very own Tricoteuse.
    As usual with such scandals, the surprise is the surprise shown by any semi sentient lifeform.

  • 14
    Margot Saville
    Posted Tuesday, 5 February 2013 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    I am now going to get Tricoteuse on my business cards…thanks!

  • 15
    Edward James
    Posted Wednesday, 6 February 2013 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    The Federal, State and Local voters may have been paying more attention to their knitting than voting. edward James

  • 16
    Warren Joffe
    Posted Wednesday, 6 February 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Has counsel assisting put the obvious question to Eddie?

    That is “would you please give a summary of the growth of your family fortune since you began work, telling us the key decisions and their consequences, for better and for worse, and why they were made?”

    No one or ten questions would achieve the end of getting him to give a picture of his business ways, principles and ethics that was clear enough to damn him when the facts or his denials of knowledge were were clearly inconsistent with his account. But it would be worth trying as a supplement to what he is already contributing himself by his demeanour and answers which can be shown to be, at least prima facie, or as a matter of common sense, wrong.

  • 17
    Warren Joffe
    Posted Wednesday, 6 February 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Same question to each of the Obeids I suggest.

  • 18
    Edward James
    Posted Wednesday, 6 February 2013 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    When reading legislation as I have it is often apparant Ministers hav an entitlement whicj is identfied as ministerial perogative. would macdonald be in a position to claim Ministeral perogative in his dealings with the Obied family. Edward James POB 3024 Umina

  • 19
    Posted Wednesday, 6 February 2013 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    While Macdonald might claim ministerial prerogative, I suggest its application to Obeid would be fanciful. Ministers must exercise their discretion within standards of due process and fair dealing which seem to have been breached flagrantly.

  • 20
    Edward James
    Posted Wednesday, 6 February 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I seem to recall when reading through the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1993 and other NSW legislation The Minister may exercise his or her prerogative to ignore the provisions of the particular legislation related to their portfolios. Edward James is not a smart man but I believe we the peoples may bring about a just result! Are you all with me????

  • 21
    Edward James
    Posted Thursday, 7 February 2013 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    He was not silenced in court. Eddie Obied demonstrated a politicians complete contempt for constituents. Obied is no Silvio Berlusconi or Conrad Black. We the peoples are all being disappointed by the tedious progress of this public ICAC inquiry. We the people understand the outcome of all this is entirely down to each and everyone of us! and how we exercise our vote !!!!!
    I assume these peoples are still equality !

  • 22
    Edward James
    Posted Thursday, 7 February 2013 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    He was not silenced in court. Eddie Obied demonstrated a politicians complete contempt for constituents. Obied is no Silvio Berlusconi or Conrad Black. We the peoples are all being disappointed by the tedious progress of this public ICAC inquiry. We the people understand the outcome of all this is entirely down to each and everyone of us! and how we exercise our vote !!!!!
    I assume these peoples are still what we the people call equality !

  • 23
    Edward James
    Posted Thursday, 7 February 2013 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    He was not silenced in court. Eddie Obied demonstrated a politicians complete contempt for constituents. Obied is no Silvio Berlusconi or Conrad Black. We the peoples are all being disappointed by the tedious progress of this public ICAC inquiry. We the people understand the outcome of all this is entirely down to each and everyone of us! and how we exercise our vote !!!!!
    I assume these peoples are still what we the people call equality !

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