Let the tumbrils roll! Today, after suffering the worst state government in Australian history since the Rum Corp, the hapless voters of NSW are finally starting to see some action. Eighteen months after the NSW Labor government was hurled out of office, the cause of many of its problems -- the members of its illustrious NSW Right group -- are being called to account.
This morning the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption commenced the most complex and most important investigation in its 25-year history. In the words of counsel assisting, Geoffrey Watson SC, it's importance "is not because of the sums of money involved -- although the sums of money are enormous". The importance "stems from the identity and rank of the public officials involved, and the subject matter of the decisions which they made".
The core allegations are shocking, and when the sums of money were revealed, a whole room of hardened court reporters gasped in amazement. Basically, former minister Ian Macdonald made or influenced government decisions which may have allowed the family of NSW Right powerbroker Eddie Obeid to "acquire profits in the order of $100 million".
ICAC is looking at whether Macdonald gave advance notice of the awarding of mineral exploration rights to companies associated with the Obeid family. This would mean they could buy up the land for relatively low prices. After the licences were granted, if coal reserves were discovered, they could then be on-sold to larger coal mining companies at a huge profit.
There's only one problem with that, of course, and that is that the valuable coal beneath the surface actually belongs to the citizens of NSW.
"But the effect of [Macdonald's] decision are that some of our coal assets -- assets which could have created revenue of tens of millions of dollars -- have passed to the ownership of third parties for a comparatively trivial return for the people of NSW," Watson said. Think of that next time next time your local hospital runs out of money.
The core of all of this is the relationship between Macdonald and Obeid. Watson said the inquiry will go inside the NSW cabinet room "to examine a number of decisions made by a minister and examine the political and personal allegiances inside and outside the cabinet".
In other words, this is going to be almost as good as a royal commission into the NSW Right, which just could be the gift that keeps on giving. Macca has already starred in a previous ICAC hearing, which heard evidence he received the services of a s-x worker called Tiffanie paid for by murder suspect Ron Medich. But this is much more serious.
"On one view, the decisions might be explained solely by bad governing. But the decisions might also be explained by corruption. This public inquiry will be investigating whether corruption was involved," Watson said.
Former NSW premiers Morris Iemma and Nathan Rees are first in the witness stand tomorrow, although ICAC commissioner David Ipp QC has been at pains to point out that neither is suspected of any wrongdoing. The inquiry continues.