Eddie’s ‘wog Lebanese’ jeer at ICAC
Disgraced former Labor kingpin Eddie Obeid accuses the Independent Commission Against Corruption of racism. Kate McClymont reports.
PT1M38S http://www.smh.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2xqhe 620 349 November 18, 2013 – 1:58PM
Disgraced former Labor minister Eddie Obeid has accused the corruption watchdog of racism for implying his family are “wog Lebanese”, who took the spoils of joint business ventures “from the one bloody plate”.
In a heated morning in the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Monday, Mr Obeid said he was not involved in the business dealings of his nine children and 31 grandchildren.
“I’m not involved in their daily lives,” he said.
Outspoken: Eddie Obeid arrives at the ICAC inquiry. Photo: Peter Rae
The ICAC is investigating whether Mr Obeid , 70, used his political influence to lobby colleagues about cafes at Circular Quay, water licences in rural NSW and consulting business Direct Health Solutions.
The Obeids had a secret interest in each of the ventures but Mr Obeid resisted being described as the head of the family’s business empire.
“This is not some wog Lebanese [thing where] we all eat from the one bloody plate,” Mr Obeid said in his fifth appearance in the ICAC witness box.
“This is disgraceful thinking that in Australia my eldest son is 48 years old that I have to … spoon-feed him and his brothers. They run their businesses. They don’t need my assistance.”
But he agreed the family shared the proceeds of business ventures that were distributed by a trust.
Mr Obeid’s barrister, Stuart Littlemore, QC, said it was “ostensibly racist” to ask whether the former Labor MP was the head of his family.
“There is a risk, in our respectful submission, of meretricious and offensive conclusions being leapt to … that because somebody is of a certain background then his wish for his family to prosper is somehow different from the wishes of every family,” Mr Littlemore said.
He said questions about who was head of a family “would not be raised with somebody called Macdonald”.
“Or Littlemore?” Assistant Commissioner Anthony Whealy, QC, said. “I can’t imagine you’re not the head of the family, Mr Littlemore.”
Mr Littlemore replied: “If you knew my children.”
Mr Whealy said counsel assisting the inquiry, Ian Temby, QC, was “endeavouring to put to [Mr Obeid] that at least the family all eat from the same financial plate”.
Mr Obeid was adamant he was unaware of his sons’ interest in Direct Health when he helped set up a meeting for the company with his political ally, then treasurer Michael Costa, in mid-2005.
Mr Temby suggested he had deliberately made no mention of his son Paul’s involvement in DHS to distance his family from the business.
Mr Obeid said: “I don’t recall speaking to Paul about it.”
He admitted he was aware of his family’s interest in three cafes at Circular Quay when he lobbied a succession of ports ministers over the leases, including Carl Scully and Joe Tripodi.
In 2009, two of the leases were controversially renewed by Mr Tripodi for up to 10 years without a tender.
Mr Whealy put to Mr Obeid that the public would look at that decision as something that benefited the Obeid family.
Mr Obeid replied that it was “coincidental” that his family had leases and he was only trying to help all the leaseholders.
Mr Scully came under fire from Mr Obeid, who claimed “he was useless in his portfolio” and was “too interested in acting as the next premier” to do the right thing by the Circular Quay tenants.
Mr Scully has previously told the inquiry that Mr Obeid lobbied him on behalf of leaseholders at the Quay, without revealing the Obeid family had an interest.
Mr Scully said it would be “quasi-criminal” of Mr Obeid not to disclose his interest and that Mr Obeid had “screamed” at him when he refused to extend the cafe leases at Circular Quay.
The inquiry heard Mr Obeid suggested his sons change their surnames to avoid the scrutiny of the media.
The former Labor kingpin said that he was fully supportive of his sons using companies and trusts to hide their business interests as The Sydney Morning Herald was running a “vendetta” against his family.
Mr Obeid said he “didn’t mind” when it was aimed at him but he said the Herald later “extended it to anyone related to me or near me” and his family was “discriminated against” because of their name.