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May 26, 2006

Eddie Obeid exploits the perks of being a lawmaker

Crikey editor Misha Ketchell writes:In some ways, parliamentary privilege is a pretty unsatisfactory compromise. One on hand politicians pass defamation laws th

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Crikey editor Misha Ketchell writes:

In some ways,
parliamentary privilege is a pretty unsatisfactory compromise. One on
hand politicians pass defamation laws that severly curtail the rights
of ordinary citizens to criticise them or impugn their reputations. On
the other hand, they can say whatever they like when speaking in
parliament.

Although there is a convention that privilege should
not be abused to pursue personal agendas or vendettas, no-one seems to
have told NSW upper house MP Eddie Obeid. In an extraordinary speech on Wednesday night Obeid used his parliamentary privilege to attack on Sydney Morning Herald
investigative reporter Kate McClymont and her alleged source, as well
as calling for an increase to the cap on defamation payouts. This is
the same Eddie Obeid who is currently suing the SMH over McClymont’s stories.

Obeid thinks he was wronged by this story in the SMH about his sons’ business dealings. His parliamentary attack on McClymont and her alleged source runs thus:

Mr Knight then contacted his good friend and Fairfax
journalist, Ms Kate McClymont. I am informed that these two old friends
met weekly to discuss gossip. I have also been informed that Ms
McClymont has kept various records of these conversations, that she
made various inquiries and kept accurate notes on those inquiries I
have been informed of the many filthy allegations McClymont has made
about my family and me. Unfortunately for her, I have a copy of the
Fairfax Code of Ethics. I draw Ms McClymont’s attention to section 2.1
of that code, which reads:

We endeavour to perform our duties
and conduct business in a manner that is honest and of the highest
integrity. We strive to maintain our business relationships in a manner
which are consistent with principles of respect for others and
fairness.
I draw Ms McClymont’s attention to section 2.4 of the code, which reads:

We
will disclose any real or potential conflicts of interest when dealing
with family, friends, or other related parties or entities on behalf of
the company.

He concludes:

To quote Arthur Miller, the accuser does not look so holy
now. Perhaps it is time we members of this Chamber revisited our
decision— having been a repeated victim of this sort of orchestrated,
professional muckraking—to cap damages in defamation actions to
$250,000 for non-economic loss.

According to the SMH
McClymont’s story was based on a court judgement. But until McClymont
enjoys the same freedom as Obeid to put her version of events it’s
hardly a fair fight. And that seems to be just how Eddie Obeid wants it.

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