The steady drip of questions and part-answers about Nathan Rees’s knowledge of the crimes of Milton Orkopoulos, or at least allegations about them, is continuing.

Rees maintains that he was unaware of child s-x allegations against Orkopoulos until the latter’s arrest in November 2006, although he has since explained that he also confronted Orkopoulos over rumours of his drug use. And Rees’s reputation won’t be helped much by former Labor MP Paul O’Grady coming out on the weekend and saying he told Rees to stay ignorant of what Orkopoulos was doing if he wanted to safeguard his career.

This isn’t a minor detail about Rees’s knowledge of Orkopoulos’s crimes. Clearly Orkopoulos was expert at hiding his activities — as he has boasted to Channel Seven while saying that Rees never knew anything. Rees certainly wouldn’t have known in detail about what the MP was up to. But given that Orkopoulos only ended up facing charges because he himself brought in the police in an effort to “clear the air” that went wrong, there’s a real issue of whether NSW Government MPs – right up to former Premier Morris Iemma  could have ensured Orkopoulos was brought to justice sooner by acting on allegations about his behaviour.

Out of everyone involved in the affair, Nathan Rees is the only one left in the NSW Parliament.

An important element in Rees’s defence is that he left Orkopoulos’s staff before — just before — Orkopoulos brought in the police in August 2006 to deal with a statutory declaration about his p-edophilia that had been slipped under his door.

Orkopoulos staffer Gillian Sneddon, who assisted police with the investigation, has always thought that Orkopoulos had staged the summoning of police – which included faxing the declaration to Police Minister Carl Scully’s office — as part of his plan to dismiss the allegations (which he done on a previous occasion when one of his victims approached his office staff in 2005).

New material provided to Crikey suggests Sneddon is right. Fellow Orkopoulos staff member Vicki Calder told police in a signed statement last year that Orkopoulos in fact had been in possession of the declaration as early as June 2006, two months before he called police.

Crikey also understands that around the time Rees left Orkopoulos’s staff on 4 August 2006, Orkopoulos had a furious phone call with Premier Morris Iemma about Rees being moved to the latter’s office. The transfer of Rees is alleged to have been because Iemma did not want Rees — a rising star within the party — tainted by the rumours about Orkopoulos. It is unclear whether this relates to rumours of Orkopoulos’s drug use, or his p-edophilia, or both.

Again, none of this directly suggests Rees has misled Parliament when he says he knew nothing about Orkopoulos’s activities until November 2006. However, there is — drip by drip — growing evidence that only a wilful act of ignorance would have prevented Labor figures from knowing there were serious allegations about Orkopoulos circulating.

The Opposition has called for Rees to attend the current whistleblower inquiry that grew out of attempts to establish a Parliamentary inquiry into the Orkopoulos affair and the treatment of Gillian Sneddon.

The whistleblower inquiry isn’t enough for this. It’s de rigueur for the press to call for inquiries. But a separate, external inquiry is the only way to establish what Labor figures knew about Orkopoulos. The same inquiry call also look into why confidential information about the police investigation of Orkopoulos provided by Sneddon to Parliamentary staff was immediately relayed to Orkopoulos, potentially endangering the success of the investigation.

Rees can initiate that inquiry. He will be the principal beneficiary if his story stacks up, even if it doesn’t say much for his curiosity that he ignored what was going on around him for so long.

Peter Fray

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