Things are a little quieter at ICAC today. After yesterday’s fireworks, with instructions to answer the questions, threats of contempt and shouted objections from senior counsel, the temperature at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption has come down a few degrees.
Whether Commissioner David Ipp QC has read them all the riot act in the headmaster’s study, or whether star witness Eddie Obeid has finally seen sense, there’s no doubt today’s hearing is less hysterical than yesterday.
The Counsel assisting Geoffrey Watson SC has spent most of the morning quizzing Obeid about the huge sums of money flowing in and out of the Obeid Family Trust No. 1. The accounts for the trust were tendered in court immediately after the inquiry saw copies of the former politician’s pecuniary interest declarations, which showed that he had only ever declared his parliamentary salary.
Although Obeid (a NSW Labor politician for 20 years) trained as an accountant, he was very vague about the workings of the trust, saying that his sons ran the family businesses because he was “hands off”.
Although Eddie appeared to be uninterested in the workings of the trust, which was set up in 1973, the rest of us found it riveting. He was initially not sure if he was a beneficiary and didn’t know the details of a $1.7 million loan account in the name of his wife, Judith.
“Your wife has run up a $1.7 million debt, and you don’t know whether she has an income, the term of the loan, what interest rate it is or whether she has any capacity to pay it?” asked Watson. “Yes,” Obeid replied.
The entries paint an interesting picture of life in a $10 million heritage-listed mansion on the waterside of Hunters Hill, one of Sydney’s most prestigious suburbs. There are regular largish payments to the local newsagency (for drycleaning, according to Obeid), regular debits to BMW and Mercedes-Benz, and constant visits from The Pool Doctor and a billiard company. Puzzlingly, a florist in distant Epping seems to receive regular payments (aren’t there florists in Hunters Hill?) as does Cheap and Quick Waste Bins.
Although Obeid says the trust was set up to benefit his nine children and their children, this largesse does come at a price. Asked about large sums paid to Rydges Port Macquarie, the former powerbroker said that the entire family spent a month there every January, holidaying together.
Although Obeid, the leader of the NSW Right faction of the ALP for two decades, is less belligerent today, he is still not giving out a lot of hard information. At one stage Commissioner Ipp told Obeid that “we will stay here as long as it takes to get answers to questions from you … you will be in the witness box until you answer the questions you are asked, do you understand that?”
Later he warned him: “Will you stop trying to obfuscate the matter!”
This could take quite a long time.