A multi-million-dollar mining licence, a murder suspect and a prostitute called Tiffanie – a long-running inquiry into corruption in the New South Wales Labor Party had it all, and today it concluded with two former state ministers facing potential criminal charges and long jail sentences.
The inquiry, by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (Icac), a statutory body which monitors the conduct of politicians and civil servants in Australia’s most populous state, centred on the approval of a coal exploration licence over land in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, owned by Eddie Obeid, a former Labor minister and powerbroker, and his son, Moses.
The man who approved the licence, and allegedly passed on inside information helpful to the pair, was Ian Macdonald, a former minerals minister who earned his nickname of Sir Lunch-A-Lot for his love of long, expensive lunches. Mr Macdonald, the Icac heard, also arranged a dinner meeting in 2009 between power company executives and Ron Medich, a Sydney property developer subsequently charged with ordering the murder of a one-time colleague, Michael McGurk.
As a token of his gratitude, Mr Medich – who had a stake in an electrical contracting company – offered Mr Macdonald his choice of four young Asian women seated at a nearby table in the restaurant. The then minister picked out Tiffanie, whom he later met at the five-star Four Seasons Hotel, in Sydney’s historic Rocks district.
Questioned about the incident, Mr Macdonald told the inquiry he had not realised Tiffanie was a prostitute, and thought he was going to the hotel for a “remedial massage” arranged by Mr Medich.
The inquiry – which recommended that criminal charges be laid against Mr Macdonald, the two Mr Obeids and other wealthy business figures – could not have concluded at a worse time for Labor, with the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, under pressure to name a date for the federal election, due by November.
Since replacing Julia Gillard in June, Mr Rudd has suspended the scandal-plagued branch. “Like all Australians, I’ve been appalled by the allegations,” he said. “As a party, we must stamp out a culture which has allowed this type of behaviour to take hold.”