Obeid remains combative at ICAC inquiry
Former Labor minister Eddie Obeid on Tuesday defended his family against any 'shonky business' dealings at the Independent Commission Against Corruption, reports Kate McClymont.PT2M10S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2dvui 620 349 February 5, 2013
Three of Labor's most senior politicians - the federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, and the NSW Opposition Leader, John Robertson - have been dragged into a corruption probe after admitting they accepted lavish ski trips from the ALP powerbroker Eddie Obeid.
In his final moments in the witness box at the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Tuesday, Mr Obeid named six senior Labor figures he said had accepted thousands of dollars worth of hospitality from his family at a lodge in the Perisher ski resort.
We're generous people and we like to share our generosity with our friends.
Mr Obeid was being questioned about his generosity to the former state mining minister Ian Macdonald, who is accused of giving the Obeid family confidential information about a government coal tender. Mr Macdonald was given a rent-free holiday at the Obeids' three-bedroom ski lodge, The Stables, at Perisher, which costs more than $7500 a week in peak season. The Obeids also picked up Mr Macdonald's meal tab.
Labor politicians ... Tony Burke, Mark Arbib, John Robertson and Stephen Conroy.
Mr Obeid denied that providing such hospitality was to impose obligations on other people. ''We're generous people and we like to share our generosity with our friends,'' he said.
He added that he thought the federal Employment Minister, Bill Shorten, had had a holiday on the slopes with Mr Burke. Mr Obeid was mistaken. It was not Mr Shorten, who doesn't ski, but his colleague Mr Conroy, who issued a statement last night saying: ''I wish to declare one stay for two days at this apartment in either 2005 or 2006.''
In a statement Mr Burke said: ''Given the media interest which has emerged today, I declare two separate stays at this accommodation in the period 2004 to 2006.''
Eddie Obeid leaves the ICAC after giving evidence today. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
Mr Burke and Mr Conroy said the Obeid family was not present during their stays. Both stated that although they had accepted Mr Obeid's generosity in a personal capacity, they believed it was in the public interest to clarify the matter. The Federal Parliament's disclosure rules state that ''any sponsored travel or hospitality received where the value of the sponsored travel or hospitality exceeds $300'' must be declared.
On Wednesday, Mr Burke said neither Mr Obeid nor his family had made representations or discussed investments with him since he had been in federal parliament.
To describe Mr Obeid as a friend ''would be a pretty big stretch'' as a ''current description'', but Mr Burke conceded they were reasonably close when he was in NSW parliament.
Asked whether he had any suspicions about Mr Obeid during his days in state parliament given the rumours that were circulating about the Obeid family's business practices, Mr Burke said he did not.
Mr Obeid said the former NSW premier Morris Iemma, the former NSW minister Carl Scully, and the former federal minister turned lobbyist Mark Arbib had all stayed at The Stables.
Mr Iemma denied the claim. Mr Scully said he had stayed there twice but ''as this was from a fellow parliamentary colleague I did not at the time believe I was required to declare it in the pecuniary interest register''.
Mr Robertson and Mr Arbib confirmed they had stayed there but said it was before they entered Parliament.
Mr Robertson said his trip, with his family, occurred in 2007 when he was the head of Unions NSW. He said no politicians or members of the Obeid family were present.
The disclosure comes days after Mr Robertson announced new transparency reforms to clean up Labor's image in NSW and counter the impact of the ICAC inquiry.
Mr Arbib, who is now a lobbyist for James Packer's Crown Limited, said he had spent a weekend at Mr Obeid's lodge in 2005 when he was the general secretary of NSW Labor.
Mr Obeid's testimony came as a result of a two-year investigation undertaken by the ICAC into an allegedly corrupt 2008 coal licence tender run by Mr Macdonald that led to windfall gains for the Obeid family of more than $75 million.
During his second day of interrogation by counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson, SC, Mr Obeid was grilled about his own pecuniary interest declaration, which did not mention the millions of dollars flowing through the Obeid family trust of which he and his wife were the ultimate beneficiaries.
Mr Obeid repeatedly said he did not know and could not explain the workings of the accounts, including how it was that payments made to his family's business partners, staff and even to himself were channelled through his wife's loan account.
Although he said he had trained and worked as an accountant early in his career, Mr Obeid said: ''I have no knowledge of these accounts.''
Taking Mr Obeid through page after page of mysterious account entries, Mr Watson said: ''It looks shonky, doesn't it?''
''I don't believe my family does anything shonky,'' Mr Obeid said, becoming increasingly angry at the questions asked of him. This was despite the fact that he had not declared the $2.3 million he had drawn from his family trust between 2001 and 2011.
After several hours of grilling over what the commissioner, David Ipp, QC, described as the family's ''bewildering'' trust accounts, Mr Obeid told Mr Watson: ''I have spent more money than you have made in your lifetime.''
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