The NSW Labor Government has raised some eyebrows by appointing a Liberal Party councillor to its Greater Western Sydney Economic Development Board.

Normally, the ALP gives priority to members of its own tightly knit gene pool when it is handing out jobs. But Fairfield City councillor Frank Oliveri is an exception. He is that rare bird, a Liberal who enjoys powerful connections at the heart of the Iemma Government.

The local Fairfield MP, Joe Tripodi, the Minister for Small Business, Ports, Waterways and Regulatory Reform, is a close mate who supported Oliveri’s appointment to the board which represents one of the fastest economic growth areas in Australia.

An entrepreneurial businessman, Oliveri is currently the manager of the industrial and logistics department of CB Richard Ellis’s Liverpool office. He also owns coffee shops and other properties. This is the second time Oliveri has enjoyed Labor government preferment. Earlier, he was appointed to the board of the government’s Small Business Development Corporation. At that time he was listed as director of Home & Kitchen at Smithfield.

On Fairfield Council, Oliveri is an outspoken member of the pro-development grouping. He received embarrassing media coverage in 2002 when it was revealed that he was one of several councillors who had visited the convicted murderer and fellow councillor, Phuong Ngo, in prison. Ngo, whose conviction is currently being reviewed by acting Supreme Court Justice David Patten, a former president of the NSW Liberal Party, was jailed for life for the 1994 murder of Cabramatta’s Labor MP John Newman.

The Liberal Party hierarchy took a very dim view of Oliveri’s solicitous attitude towards Ngo, a Labor branch-stacker and boss of the Mekong Club who had been convicted of Australia’s first political assassination. While Tripodi is the unofficial leader of ALP stalwarts in the Italian-Australian community in the Fairfield district, Oliveri holds a similar position among those of a Liberal persuasion. Locals who know both men say there is little ideological difference between them. They both belong to Club Marconi.

Oliveri’s father, also Frank, who died in 2005, was a councillor from 1965 to 1999 and owner of the Liverpool City Raceway which became a mecca for sprint car fans. When Oliveri was defeated in the 1999 council elections, Tripodi delivered a speech in parliament in which he expressed regret that the anti-Labor councillor had lost.

He also regretted the defeat of two other non-Labor councillors, Tony Campolongo (“an enormous shame”) and Joe Molluso, but he had nothing but scathing contempt for the loss of ALP councilor Ken Chapman, the former electorate secretary of the murdered MP Newman.

“I am not very sorry to see the back of Councillor Ken Chapman,” Tripodi told MPs.

“He is what we describe as a Labor rat and I am happy that he has gone. He did not make much of a contribution. He did nothing other than drag Cabramatta down.”

The development board to which Oliveri has been appointed represents 14 councils along the western Sydney beltway with a population of 1.85 million generating annual economic output of more than $80 billion.

Its economy is the third largest in Australia behind the Sydney CBD and South-East Queensland, which means that Oliveri now occupies a special place on a board which is working with federal, state and local governments in business partnerships with the private sector. The infrastructure prospects are boundless, including the much-delayed second airport for Sydney.

Tripodi and Oliveri are an odd political couple and one worth watching.

Peter Fray

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