Eddie Obeid arrives to Darlinghurst court complex for sentencing Photo: Daniel Munoz Eddie Obeid arriving at the Supreme Court to be sentenced on Thursday. Photo: Daniel Munoz
Earlier this week, Eddie Obeid appeared relaxed outside his home.
The Obeid home in Hunters Hill appears to be undergoing renovations. Photo: Peter Rae
As Eddie Obeid sat motionless, save for a slight facial tic, in the dock of the Supreme Court listening to his sentencing by Justice Robert Beech-Jones the former NSW government minister was a poor imitation of his usual self.
There was no discernable trace of the cocky ex-Labor powerbroker who, following a corruption finding against him in 2014, declared there was a “one per cent chance” of him being prosecuted.
At the time Obeid attacked the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s investigation that led to the finding as a sham designed to make the watchdog “look good”.
On Thursday, as his wife Judith sobbed in the public gallery, ICAC was vindicated as Obeid was sentenced to a maximum five years’ jail for wilful misconduct in public office in relation to lobbying over commercial leases as Circular Quay in which his family had an interest.
His lawyers immediately talked up his chances at appeal, but Obeid’s imprisonment may prove a watershed moment in contemporary NSW political history.
Arguably no other NSW politician in recent times has better embodied the public’s growing concern that some of our elected representatives are using their powerful positions to corruptly feather their own nests.
Obeid, after all, was a wealthy businessman who many suspected entered politics not to serve the public at all, but rather to see how well power could serve his personal financial interests.
The alarm grew as he rose to become a minister of the Crown and a powerbroker within the former Labor government with a reputation, thanks to his focus on factional politics, for being able to make or break Premiers.
As such, Obeid was a poster boy for the type of public concern that US president-elect Donald Trump’s “drain the swamp” and “crooked Hillary” campaign trail rhetoric tapped into with such devastating results.
While on the one hand Obeid’s conviction and jailing confirms those fears are justified, they may also be cause for some cautious optimism.
As Justice Beech-Jones pointed out in his sentencing remarks, when politicians are caught behaving this way, public confidence in democratic institutions like the Parliament is undermined.
Yet by the same logic, the jailing of Obeid should serve as a powerful deterrent to others contemplating the same path.
It’s a tougher ask, but it may also boost public confidence in the often-criticised institutions that made it happen: the media, the ICAC, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the courts.
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