The best show in town opened this morning, as the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption commenced a five-month inquiry into corruption allegations involving three former NSW Labor ministers.
Although this inquiry involves coal mining leases and the gift of a car, these are just the minor manifestations of a culture that infected and ultimately destroyed the NSW Labor government, run by the ruthless "NSW Right" faction under the motto of "whatever it takes."
For 16 years, the interests of the NSW voters were distant in the mind of factional bosses like Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi, who divided up the spoils of office to their followers, watched over by their mates at Labor Party HQ in Sussex St.
But once Labor lost power in the 2011 landslide election it was only a matter of time before the day of reckoning would come. Today it did. Like a chicken being swallowed by a python, these corruption allegations have been slowly working their way through the system and have finally seen the light of day. The names of former premiers Morris Iemma, Nathan Rees and Kristina Keneally are also on the witness list. In other words, it's a lawyers' picnic.
ICAC has in fact been conducting three separate inquiries concerning corruption allegations involving the former minister for primary industries and mineral resources, Ian Mcdonald, the former minister for mineral resources Eddie Obeid and the former minister for roads and commerce, Eric Roozendaal.
The most damaging allegations involve the granting by Mcdonald in 2008 of 11 coal mining licences, many of which went to family members and associates of Obeid. The Obeid family had bought land in the area nine months before the licences were granted, and were able to sell out at a considerable profit. Other allegations centre around the issuing of an invitation to a company associated with former union boss John Maitland.
This will be the second ICAC outing for Mcdonald, aka "Sir Lunchalot", who has previously starred in an inquiry in which he was said to have received "massage services" from a s-x worker paid for by property developer and now murder suspect Ron Medich.
Commissioner David Ipp QC said this morning they were leading off with the Roozendaal car issue to make it clear the former NSW treasurer was not involved in the coal mining matters. Today's inquiry is examining the circumstances in which Obeid's son Moses provided Roozendaal with a Honda CRV car in June 2007 when he was on the front bench.
Roozendaal has previously confirmed Moses had organised the car for him but said his actions had all been "completely kosher" and that he had paid for the car himself. While the Obeids paid $44,800 for the car, there is evidence Roozendaal paid $34,000 for it -- no doubt he will be asked to explain this when he gives evidence.
I can imagine allowing myself to be compromised by an Aston Martin, or a Karmann Ghia -- but a Honda CRV? That's a car with CUP HOLDERS, people. Silvio Berlusconi would be appalled.
In his opening statement, counsel assisting Geoffrey Watson SC said that "there were some curious features as to how the Roozendaals come to own the Honda CRV and how much they paid for it".
The whole incident was referred to ICAC on the basis of an allegation that Moses had arranged the car as "some kind of payback for favours that Roozendaal had performed, or would perform, for Eddie", he said.
While that allegation might be right or wrong, he said, it is "problematical when it is recognised that Mr Obeid and his family are very active businessmen, involved in a number of different enterprises, many of which could benefit from different types of decisions that a minister might make".
When Roozendaal collected the car from an Obeid associate, Geoffrey Watson continued, he collected the keys and drove off, without paying money or signing paperwork: "The fact that Mr Roozendaal would not ask for rego papers is especially difficult to fathom -- he was, after all, the minister for roads."
Although the sum at stake is small, he said, "no one could doubt the issue of the importance of principle. Gifts and favours usually require reciprocation. If a minister accepts a financial benefit from a person upon whom he could confer a favour, that is worth investigating. If a person confers a benefit upon a minister then the motives of that person are worth investigating".
The hearing continues, with both Mr and Mrs Roozendaal and Moses Obeid due to give evidence next week. Eric was in the public gallery this morning, looking fairly calm and collected. But did he catch the bus in from Bondi? Any sightings of the former Labor heavyweight, on public transport, will be gratefully received.