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Jul 31, 2014

The (attempted) exorcism of Eddie Obeid

The NSW Labor Party wants to present Eddie Obeid as one bad apple. But this, of course, is nonsense, writes NSW political reporter Alex Mitchell.

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We had gathered in New South Wales Parliament to launch a new book that records, in magnificent detail, the corrupt political career of ALP powerbroker Eddie Obeid. But it felt more like an exorcism.

After the official speeches, the assembled members of the Labor and media classes went upstairs to Obeid’s former parliamentary office to dance on his political grave. The mood was upbeat and reminiscent of a happy-clappy Hillsong service: Hallelujeh! The Evil One is no more.

Celebrations had actually started last weekend, July 26-27, when delegates at the NSW Labor Party conference voted to expel Obeid for the term of his natural life. But try as they might, Obeid’s toxic name and odious reputation will haunt the Labor Party for some time to come. It is surely wishful thinking to believe otherwise.

There is a NSW election on March 28 next year, and Obeid could be on trial as voters go to the polls. In any case, Premier Mike Baird’s campaign team is certain to make destructive use of TV advertisements reminding the electorate of “The Sheik’s” multiple appearances before the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Labor’s preelection strategy of singling out Obeid and metaphorically burning him at the stake isn’t going to purify NSW Labor, nor will it convince a majority of voters to switch back to the ALP. Not yet, anyway. Casting him as the “bad apple” in an otherwise healthy barrel and as a “rogue politician” in the last Labor caucus is a travesty of the truth. It is tailored to suit the make-believe histrionics of former premier Bob Carr (1996-2006), who is consumed by grandstanding and personal vanities.

History shows it was the culture of the NSW ALP in the latter part of the 20th century that nurtured Obeid and promoted him into Parliament, and then cabinet and invested him with immense factional powers. Labor’s new elite is delusional if it believes fresh electoral success can be achieved by simply airbrushing away Obeid’s 30-year career. It won’t wash.

To paraphrase Bill Clinton, one individual didn’t engineer Labor’s public disgrace and electoral downfall — it’s the party, stupid.

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