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In cahoots with ALP on roguery not good look for Coalition

Date

Sean Nicholls

ANALYSIS

Corruption allegations to take its toll on Barry O'Farrell's government.

Corruption allegations to take its toll on Barry O'Farrell's government. Photo: James Brickwood

From the time the first details of the Independent Commission Against Corruption's latest investigations were announced a few weeks ago, shudders have reverberated through the ranks of the O'Farrell government.

The details hinted at the prospect of one of its most senior ministers, Chris Hartcher, being implicated in corrupt activity involving Eddie Obeid, the most notoriously corrupt figure in the discredited former Labor government.

Implicated in corrupt activity involving Eddie Obeid: Liberal MP Chris Hartcher.

Implicated in corrupt activity involving Eddie Obeid: Liberal MP Chris Hartcher. Photo: Sasha Woolley

On Monday, counsel assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson landed another devastating blow to the Liberals.

Tongue firmly in cheek, Watson described the alleged corruption surrounding Australian Water Holdings as ''an uncharacteristic display of bipartisanship''.

''It might be said - re-adapting Shakespeare - that corruption 'acquaints a man with strange bedfellows','' he added, with a flourish.

Watson outlined a meeting in a Parliament House lift between Obeid and then Labor water minister Phil Costa, who is not accused of any wrongdoing.

Costa has told the ICAC Obeid suggested he needed to ''sack that bitch'' - a reference to then Sydney Water chief Kerry Schott, who was cold on a proposed deal with AWH that would benefit the Obeid family.

Then came the bombshell. Obeid is alleged to have told Costa that Hartcher would make corruption allegations against Schott using information provided by him.

An anonymous complaint was later made to the ICAC - which the commission says is unfounded. ''The source of the complaint is very interesting,'' Watson said. ''This is where misconduct makes its leap across party lines''.

There Watson left us hanging, with a promise of a full explanation at a later date.

But a year out from an election, the danger for the O'Farrell government is that this type of statement confirms for the public there is little difference between it and the Labor government violently ejected from office three years ago.

Worse, the Labor accused - Obeid, Kelly and Tripodi - are long gone from Parliament whereas Hartcher is hanging on to his seat and may do so until the ICAC hands down a final report - which could arrive shortly before next year's poll.

Additionally, one of the most senior Liberals in the country, assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos - a former Treasurer and President of the NSW division - is accused of being installed as a director of the Obeid-linked AWH to "open the lines of communication with the Liberal party".

The ICAC has made it very clear Premier Barry O'Farrell is in the clear, despite his close relationship to another of the accused, Liberal identity and AWH chief executive Nick Di Girolamo.

But just how much damage may be done to his government is only now starting to become apparent.

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