Three former NSW Labor ministers engaged in serious misconduct: ICAC report

After the resignations of a former state minister, senator and a premier, New South Wales’ corruption monitor has released its report into water infrastructure company, Australian Water Holdings.

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The long-anticipated assessment from the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has found three former state Labor ministers – Tony Kelly, Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi – engaged in serious corrupt conduct.

Staffer Laurie Brown was also found to have engaged in serious corrupt conduct.

A former minister for fisheries, Mr Obeid is currently serving a prison sentence for misconduct, after previously being found guilty of lobbying a senior public servant over lucrative Sydney waterfront leases without disclosing his family’s stake in the outlets.

Senior politics lecturer at Sydney’s University of Technology, Dr Bligh Grant, says the report’s release will be a relief to New South Wales residents.

“There’s a general feeling of disbelief with consecutive NSW governments so it’s very important that ICAC – and I think there will be a perception that ICAC has conducted at least something approaching due diligence in this regard – because consecutive NSW governments have really suffered a major legitimacy crisis over the last, almost decade.”

No findings were made against former Senator, now cabinet minister, Arthur Sinodinos.

The former chairman of the privately-owned A-W-H stood aside as assistant treasurer to the Abbott Coalition cabinet in 2014 over allegations he stood to gain financially if a deal between the company and the state-owned Sydney Water went ahead.

He was reinstated 18 months later.

He told the ICAC inquiry that it never occurred to him to reveal that he would benefit if the agreement was approved, because it was not relevant as to whether the proposal had merit.

In April of that year, Liberal NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell resigned amid controversy surrounding a $3,000 bottle of wine he was gifted by another former AWH head, Nick Di Girolamo.

Current Premier Gladys Berejiklian has welcomed the findings, calling it another example of the corruption of the former state Labor government.

It’s now up to the Department of Public Prosecutions if charges are to be laid.

New South Wales Police Commissioner Troy Grant says he hopes legal action is taken.

“The restoration of public confidence in our political class has never been more necessary. The way to restore that is to hold people to account, so I hope the book gets thrown at them.”

U-T-S’ Dr Grant says he expects the public is hoping for a similar outcome.

“I would expect that the Department of Prosecutions would be under serious pressure to pursue those criminal charges, absolutely. In particular because there’s been widespread dissatisfaction with the outcomes of these kinds of inquiries before, also you have members of a non-sitting government, a previous government there, so I would imagine that they would be perceived to be more prosecutable, they’re also extremely high profile.”

Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten insists he won’t stand for claims of misconduct against his party.

He says he expects the rest of the nation’s politicians feel the same.

“The Labor Party has no time for corruption. It doesn’t matter if it’s politicians, unions, employers or banks, for example. We want to make sure there is no place for corruption, zero tolerance. No doubt the matters that you’ve referred to will take their processes through the courts. But let’s be very straight. This country and none of the political parties in it should have any time for corruption, wherever it shows its head, full stop.”