NSW

ICAC: Eddie Obeid in the witness box

Counsel assisting ICAC, Geoffrey Watson, SC, foreshadowed in his opening address that Tony Kelly would insist, "like some kind of hypnotic chant", that he was motivated to help Australian Water because he wanted to deliver water infrastructure to Sydney's north-western suburbs.

When Kelly tries to trot out this explanation, Watson fires back: "That's not going to - never mind the pun - wash."

He ends today's questioning by asking about an allegedly doctored cabinet minute favouring Australian Water: "Did you put this minute up because you were doing a favour for your great mate Eddie Obeid?"

"No," Kelly replies.

He's back in the ICAC hot seat on Thursday.

That concludes our live blog. Thanks for reading.

Surprise move ... Tony Kelly.
Surprise move ... Tony Kelly. Photo: Tamara Dean

Counsel assisting ICAC, Geoffrey Watson, SC, has set his questions to "sardonic".

He notes that Tony Kelly became infrastructure minister on December 8, 2009, and "lo and behold" one of the first things on his agenda was to set up a meeting about Australian Water.

Shortly after, his policy adviser Claudia Certoma sent an email saying Kelly wanted the "timetable brought forward" on a cabinet minute about Australian Water's proposal for a public-private partnership with the state government.

The inquiry has heard the Obeids could have made up to $60 million from the PPP.

It's thirsty work in the witness box. Kelly takes a swig from his glass of water before answering a question from Commissioner Megan Latham.

Eddie Obeid exits the witness box. His Labor colleague Tony Kelly, who is accused of doctoring a cabinet minute to benefit Australian Water, is in the box.

Asked if he was a member of the Terrigals, a sub-faction of the ALP's powerful Right faction named after Obeid's holiday spot, Kelly says: "Never been accused of that."

He says Obeid did not reveal that his family had links to Australian Water. Asked if he remembers former premier Kristina Keneally telling him that Obeid's youngest son Eddie junior worked for the company, he says: "I don't recall that."

"I have seen her evidence where she said that," Kelly adds.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson, SC, is objecting to the questions being asked by Eddie's silk Stuart Littlemore about the evidence of a previous witness.

"This is weird," Watson says.

"This is weird?" Littlemore rejoins.

He rephrases his questions.

Stuart Littlemore
Stuart Littlemore Photo: Steven Siewert

Watson finishes his questioning of Eddie Obeid with a flourish. 

He accuses Obeid of being "motivated by personal greed" to lobby a string of Labor colleagues to benefit Australian Water, including Kristina Keneally, Michael Costa, Nathan Rees, Phillip Costa, Joe Tripodi and Tony Kelly.

"That's your version and it's rubbish," Obeid retorts.

Eddie's own barrister, former Media Watch host and ICAC's resident grammar pedant Stuart Littlemore, QC, is on his feet and putting questions to his client.

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Gardner Brook
Gardner Brook Photo: Kate Geraghty

Now we're onto another ticklish subject. Obeid is asked about Gardner Brook, a one-time Lehman Brothers banker and friend of his wheeler-dealer middle son Moses.

Brook gave damaging evidence last week that Moses boasted that his family was going to make "bucketloads" out of Australian Water. He claims he met Obeid senior and Joe Tripodi at Moses' eastern suburbs house around August 2008.

Obeid says Tripodi wasn't there and Brook was "absolutely intoxicated. He was full to the boot."

Brook told the inquiry: "It was fairly obvious these people thought they were running the state of NSW."

He claims Moses said the Obeids had grand plans to do a "privatisation deal where they effectively control all of Sydney's water".

Obeid has fallen back on his favourite ICAC riff: "I don't get involved in family business."

The former Labor kingpin says his five boys - Damien, Paul, Moses, Gerard and Eddie junior - run their own show and "my ideas are totally different to theirs".

"They make the decisions and they live by their decisions," he says. "After all, it's their money too."

He insists he was unaware of Australian Water's proposal for a PPP with the state government until after it was rejected.

Watson accuses him of lying.

"I am tellin' the truth and all the truth," Obeid fires back.

Round two of the simmering stoush Obeid's barrister and former Media Watch host Stuart Littlemore, QC, and counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson, SC.

Littlemore reckons Watson is being rather too aggressive in his questioning.

"I wonder if my friend would TRY to restrain himself," Littlemore pipes. "I know it's far too late to make this point."

Commissioner Megan Latham rejoins in the best way possible: "I think everyone should take a chill pill."

Obeid is tying himself in knots about former Sydney Water managing director Kerry Schott, a whip-smart former treasury official who didn't think much of Australian Water's proposal for a PPP.

Obeid says he doesn't recall "the exact words" of a conversation with then water minister Phillip Costa in which he allegedly told Costa to "sack the bitch".

"I wouldn't have used them [the words] in that way," Obeid says.

He says Schott wasn't supporting Costa, then a new minister in the Keneally government, but he adds "I don't think Mr Costa's got the guts to sack a tea lady".

"You're calling him a gutless liar?" counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson, SC, says.

"No, I'm not saying that," Obeid replies.

Dr Kerry Schott: in charge of Sydney Water.
Dr Kerry Schott: in charge of Sydney Water. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

Obeid admits he didn't tell a string of Labor ministers - including former premier Morris Iemma, former treasurer Michael Costa and former water minister Phillip Costa - that his son Eddie junior worked at Australian Water when he was giving them an ear-bashing about the company.

The Herald's Corruption Scoop Kate McClymont notes Eddie is about as partial to enunciating the letter "g" as he is to givin' evidence at ICAC.

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We've reached the point in the proceedings where Eddie Obeid is accused of telling lies.

The former Labor minister is shown a transcript of his private interview with ICAC, in which he said he had "never" spoken to then Premier Kristina Keneally about Australian Water's proposal for a lucrative public-private partnership with the state government.

Keneally gave evidence last month that Obeid called her at home to lobby her about the proposal.

He recollected in the witness box today that he did speak to Keneally about the company but it was only to tell her to put the fact of his son Eddie junior's employment at AWH out of her mind when considering the company "on its merits".

Watson accuses Obeid of tailoring his evidence to get himself out of a pickle.

"You've twisted it around to help you, haven't you?" he says.

"No," Obeid replies.

Later, he tells Watson: "If you want a headline you won't get it out of me because you're talkin' rubbish". 

"Okay. Thanks Mr Obeid!" a sardonic Watson replies.

Asked if he got Keneally her job, Obeid says: "She knows that. Leave that between us."

Combative best: former premier Kristina Keneally was not suffering any fools when she appeared in front of an ICAC ...
Combative best: former premier Kristina Keneally was not suffering any fools when she appeared in front of an ICAC inquiry into Australian Water Holdings. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Here we go. Obeid is shown phone records revealing about 30 phone calls with Australian Water chief executive Nick Di Girolamo in 2009-10.

Asked what could justify such a lot of "personal and direct contact", Obeid says he does his duty to constituents "no matter who it is".

Di Girolamo was a Liberal Party fundraiser, he points out indignantly.

When counsel assisting ICAC, Geoffrey Watson, SC, points out that "most of the calls are being made by you, Mr Obeid, not Mr Di Girolamo", Obeid changes tack.

"He's a friend of the family. He attended many of our occasions," he says.

 

Nicholas Anthony Di Girolamo from Australian Water Holdings, outside his home in Henley, Sydney. 14th December 2012 ...
Nicholas Anthony Di Girolamo from Australian Water Holdings, outside his home in Henley, Sydney. 14th December 2012 Photo: Wolter Peeters The Sydney Morning Herald Photo: Wolter Peeters

We're back after lunch. Counsel assisting ICAC, Geoffrey Watson, SC, is asking about a February 2008 meeting between Eddie Obeid, former treasurer Michael Costa and the then chief executive of Australian Water, Nick Di Girolamo.

Watson says that Mr Obeid's youngest son Eddie junior had been working at the company for about a year at that stage - something that doesn't seem to have come up at the meeting.

Could it have been a secret to Eddie?

"Yours is a close family, is it not?" Watson asks him.

"Yes, I see them on Sundays," Obeid says. "I don't believe my son was working for them then."

Asked why he was at the meeting, Obeid says: "Because I was asked by Nick."

When Obeid risks veering off course, Watson pulls him up by pressing him to answer the question, "not some other dream question".

Eddie Obeid has told the ICAC that he introduced his son’s best friend to various ministers because it was “every citizen’s right” to have the opportunity be allowed to air a grievance with a minister.

Wearing a navy suit, with his Order of Australia pin noticeably absent from his lapel, Mr Obeid was in combative mood when he swore to tell the truth at 12.50pm.

 The former Labor kingpin stuck to the family line that the purchase of $3 million stakeholding in Australian Water Holdings, in November 2010, was a loan not an investment.

"Surely you've been reading the newspapers about this inquiry?" Mr Watson asked.

"I don't read the newspapers," Mr Obeid replied.

When counsel assisting Geoffrey Watson, SC, pressed the question about his son's purchase of a $3 million stake in the company, Mr Obeid snapped: "I've already told you I don't read the papers and I don't listen to the news and if that's who made the suggestions I particularly don't care."

Mr Obeid also said that news that his son Eddie jnr was working at Australian Water “gradually down the grapevine of the family".

Mr Obeid admitted ringing Premier Kristina Keneally at home to tell her his son Eddie junior worked for Australian Water.

At the time, the company was proposing a lucrative public-private partnership with the state government - a deal the inquiry has heard could have made the Obeid family up to $60 million.

He said that he was aware of rumours around parliament that his son Eddie jnr worked for the water infrastructure company.

"I wanted to impress on her that my son working there should not affect the treatment of the issue on its merits. I told her...there are Libs that also worked there," said Mr Obeid.

Mr Obeid’s evidence continues.

 

 

Kate McClymont and Michaela Whitbourn report on the evidence so far:

Crooked former Labor minister Eddie Obeid has told a corruption inquiry he introduced his son’s best friend to various ministers because it was “every citizen’s right” to have the opportunity be allowed to air a grievance with a minister.

Wearing a navy suit, with his Order of Australia pin noticeably absent from his lapel, Mr Obeid was in combative mood when he swore to tell the truth at 12.50pm on Wednesday.

He agreed he introduced his son Eddie junior's close friend Nick Di Girolamo, the chief executive of infrastructure company Australian Water Holdings, to a string of Labor ministers including Nathan Rees and Michael Costa.

The former Labor kingpin stuck to the family line that the purchase of $3 million stake in AWH in November 2010 was a loan rather than an investment.

"Surely you've been reading the newspapers about this inquiry?" counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson, SC, asked.

"I don't read the newspapers," Mr Obeid replied.

When Mr Watson pressed him about his sons' alleged purchase of a $3 million stake in the company, Mr Obeid snapped: "I've already told you I don't read the papers and I don't listen to the news and if that's who made the suggestions I particularly don't care."

ICAC is investigating allegations the Obeids were “secret stakeholders” in Australian Water and that Mr Obeid corruptly lobbied colleagues to favour the company.

Mr Obeid said that news that his son Eddie jnr was working at Australian Water travelled “gradually down the grapevine of the family".

Mr Obeid admitted ringing Premier Kristina Keneally at home to tell her his youngest son Eddie junior worked for Australian Water.

At the time, the company was proposing a lucrative public-private partnership with the state government - a deal the inquiry has heard could have made the Obeid family up to $60 million.

He said that he was aware of rumours around parliament that his son Eddie jnr worked for the water infrastructure company.

"I wanted to impress on her that my son working there should not affect the treatment of the issue on its merits. I told her...there are Libs that also worked there," said Mr Obeid.

Mr Obeid’s evidence continues.

Our live blog resumes at 2pm.

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"Thank you Mr Obeid, we might take the luncheon adjournment," Commissioner Megan Latham tells Eddie Obeid.

And not a moment too soon. Obeid's barrister, former Media Watch host Stuart Littlemore, QC, just engaged in a preliminary bout of fisticuffs with counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson, SC, about the precise time Eddie junior started working at Australian Water.

Expect a lot more where that came from.

We'll be posting a wrap of the morning's action shortly.

That clears that up. Obeid says he rang then Premier Kristina Keneally at home to tell her his son Eddie junior worked for Australian Water.

At the time, the company was proposing a lucrative public-private partnership with the state government - a deal the inquiry has heard could have made the Obeid family up to $60 million.

"I wanted to impress on her that my son working there should not affect the treatment of the issue on its merits. I told her...there are Libs that also worked there," Obeid pipes.

Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos was then deputy chairman of the company.

Obeid agrees he asked then water minister Nathan Rees to meet the chief executive of Australian Water, Nick Di Girolamo.

"He's entitled to see a minister," Obeid huffs.

"Every citizen of NSW is entitled to see a minister if it warrants it. I think Nathan Rees would meet anyone that needed to see him - it was his duty."

Watson fires back: "That's good news for the citizens of NSW."

Obeid admits he also spoke to former premiers Morris Iemma and Kristina Keneally, former treasurer Michael Costa and former water minister Phillip Costa about Australian Water.

He denies talking to Joe Tripodi, saying "I don't recall that."

Asked if he spoke to former minister Tony Kelly, he says: "I deny that."

ICAC is investigating allegations Obeid corruptly lobbied colleagues to benefit the company.

Former Premier Nathan Rees leaves ICAC today.
Former Premier Nathan Rees leaves ICAC today. Photo: Anthony Johnson

One minute in the box and things are already going swimmingly between Eddie Obeid and counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson, SC. These two go way back to the coal corruption inquiry that kicked off in late 2012.

Asked if he was aware his youngest son, Eddie junior, worked for Australian Water Holdings, Obeid says initially he "wasn't aware". Watson says there is evidence he started working for the company in early 2007.

"He was working for the family as far as I was concerned," Obeid says.

He says the news of Junior's new job travelled "gradually down the grapevine of the family".

As to whether he heard the suggestion his sons bought a $3 million stake in the company, Obeid says "no one's come and directly told me that" and his sons told him they had lent money to Australian Water or "whatever company it is".

Eddie Obeid is in the witness box - without the usual Order of Australia pin on his lapel. Lunch has been delayed until 1.15pm.

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