The NSW Labor Party gets some awful press, doesn’t it? All those rude headlines about rorts and leaders getting rolled would have one believe the party is an irredeemable pack of rotters.
But, just as former ALP numbers man Graham Richardson quipped last Christmas that he was a giving man because “no one has been to more royal commissions and ICACs [corruption hearings] than I”, this year a select few in the party have been doing their best to give back to the electorate.
The state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) started an historic five-month public inquiry last month into three deals involving ALP luminaries, after painstaking investigations behind the scenes.
The result is the kind of entertainment that trumps whatever DVD box set you were planning to devour this summer, with a heady mix of phone taps, political and business big wigs, paper trails, extortion subplots and enough swearing to make a sailor blush.
But the real crime is that the moments of levity are rarely reported.
Take the start of a secretly taped phone call between businessman Greg Jones, a close friend of disgraced former mining minister Ian Macdonald, and Sydney investment banker Richard Poole on April 13 last year.
Jones: Hang, yeah, hang on a minute. (Jones talking off-line – Can I have two poached eggs and some bacon, thank you, and toast, thank you). Hello.
The mundanity! They could be you or me, give or take the allegations of corruption, a stake in a coal company, and a couple of million dollars. Stuart Littlemore, QC, the ex-Media Watch host who is acting for former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid, also provides the odd comic diversion, including his pronouncement that he abhors the use of “action” as a verb. Amen.
Words and their correct usage are a rich seam at ICAC. Coal magnate Travers Duncan spent a productive few minutes in the witness box on December 7, offering his own avant-garde definition of “weasel words” after he was recorded using the phrase in a phone call.
“I think weasel words [means] . . . to provide as much information as possible and to answer the question,” Duncan said.
“Do you think I’ll find that in the Oxford dictionary?” Commissioner David Ipp, QC, deadpanned.
Then there’s the gold standard in bumbling sidekicks: Rocco and Rosario Triulcio.
The long-time friends and business associates of the Obeids made an early appearance at the first of the corruption watchdog’s trio of inquiries, involving an allegedly corrupt car deal the Obeids lined up for former NSW treasurer Eric Roozendaal.
“We were doing the wheeling and dealing,” Rosario, the straight man of the outfit, explained on November 2.
The gum-chewing, Ferrari-driving Rocco would take the inquiry along the scenic evidentiary route, recounting a spat with a panel beater over the wheels on his then ride, a luxury BMW 7 Series.
An obliging Moses Obeid, one of Eddie’s five sons, would tell ICAC three days later that Rocco is “only a short fellow and he couldn’t really see over the steering wheel” of the Beamer.
Much to the glee of the public gallery, Rocco and Rosario gave an encore performance at ICAC’s second inquiry into a prescient series of land deals by the Obeids in the coal-rich Bylong Valley in regional NSW. This inquiry resumes on January 21.
Many of the witnesses at the ICAC are frankly too improbable to appear in any work of fiction.
A wildcard probity auditor who was assessing a tender for a coal exploration licence told the inquiry that his was a subjective game and “anyone could do it, really”.
Somehow Ipp and counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson, SC, and Nicholas Chen, manage to keep a straight face.
Indeed, they give as good as they get.
“Gee, this is great fun, isn’t it,” Watson intoned ironically to a recalcitrant witness.
In a strange way, it really is.
The Australian Financial Review