Australian Politics & Current Affairs
By Nick Kenny
“I have absolutely no idea what my generation did to enrich our democracy. We dropped the ball. We entered a period of complacency and closed our eyes to the public corruption of our democracy” – Wynton Marsalis
If ever you needed proof as to why we continue to vote, why we are forced to vote, when all we seem to end up with are either side of the same rusted old see-saw, then look no further than the recent NSW corruption revelations. After 16 years in power, the previous ALP government was reduced to factionalism of suicidal proportions, dominated by sinister plotting, character assassination, and frequent back-stabbing, all at the hands of a few key powerbrokers. In the post-Carr era, these puppetmasters managed to bring the NSW economy to a halt, pervert any meaningful reform, watch the state’s public transport system deteriorate from the luxury of their chauffeur-driven vehicles, and oust premiers at will. Like modern day versions of Roman Emperor Nero, they played their fiddles on Macquarie St while NSW burned.
Now, lo and behold, we are hearing about inside deals so flagrantly corrupt they’d impress Berlusconi. Allegations have been made against three former ministers regarding the issuing of coal mining leases back in 2007-2008. Former power-broker Eddie Obeid is said to have received confidential information from former Mining Minister Ian Macdonald, directly benefiting Obeid, his family, and his associates to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The short story goes like this: Macdonald informs Obeid about coal mining exploration tenders on the sly, which were to be made public by Macdonald’s own department three months later. Obeid and his kin hurried about, buying up as much of this promising farmland as possible, and the value skyrocketed shortly afterwards. The property, according to the testimony of Obeid’s own former solicitor, was expected to “triple or quadruple” in value once the government mining tender had been announced. The Obeid family and their cohorts allegedly cleaned up to the tune of some $100 million, give or take a few greasy handshakes. Eric Roozendaal, for his part, is said to have received a discounted Honda from this ordeal. Nice little windfall, mate. Next time you’re in for a penny, get in for the whole pound.
The pressing issue here is how the hell was this made possible. It’s simple: complacency. This particular incident was just the hallmark of the entire culture of corruption that had swept through the NSW ALP towards the latter stages its 16 year stretch. Any government allowed to remain in power for long enough is bound to become stale with ideas, take its power for granted, and make enough connections for tempting, lucrative rorts to become too damned hard to resist. Australian state governments are the worst offenders in this respect, if only because we hold the microscope of scrutiny a lot more closely over our national leaders. Simply put, most of us have bugger all time to bother with state politics. We simply re-elect the same unscrupulous characters every four years, before getting back to the more worthwhile issues on Today Tonight and Fox Sports.
Take Obeid’s record, for example. A series of persistent and audacious dodgy activities plagued his entire career, and he was routinely endorsed by the voters of NSW. A fortnight before even being elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1991, he bought a house in Clovelly for $875,000, then sold it to the NSW Department of Housing for $1.1 million, the very next day. He then went on to become embroiled in Paul Keating’s infamous piggery investments, allied himself with disgraced stockbroker Rene Rivkin, and had a number of different premises in his name mysteriously go up in flames, literally, on separate occasions, with another property attracting police attention after petrol was found somehow dripping from the ceiling. He has had up to $5 million in toxic debts written off by two banks, and in 2002 faced an ICAC inquiry after he had magically forgotten to make public his personal interest in 16 different companies.
The allegations and suspicions against him were as manifest as the failures of the former ALP government itself. Somehow, he managed to dodge this mountain of controversy, rising through the ranks to become unofficially and accurately crowned as “NSW’s most powerful politician”. The most astounding part of Obeid’s career isn’t the audacious nature of the rorts he’s pulled off, time and time again. Rather, it’s the fact that it wasn’t cut short long ago – anyone carrying on like this at the federal level, or in practically any other accountable democracy on Earth, would be out on their arse. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have the energy to stretch our attention to state politics, and we left the filthy rich Obeid to lord power over NSW, alongside his mate Joe Tripodi, for years.
The entire political syndicate that came to control NSW was, in its early years, but a flesh wound. Yet rather than pull out the first aid kit at the first signs of strife, like any politically aware people should have done, we allowed this flesh wound to fester, infecting everything, until the gangreous stench became so unbearable that we amputated the lot. Our mutilated state will be limping for decades, and the blame for lies squarely at our apathetic feet. Yes, we let this happen.
Next time you’re called on to vote, try to pay at least a bit of attention to who the hell it is we’re allowing to run our state into the ground. It’s not too difficult – if you can’t elect the best, then at least keep out the very worst.