Culture of corruption pervades NSW Inc

2 August 2013

In 1985, the then Sun-Herald journalist David Hickie published The Prince and the Premier, which revealed how a notable gambling identity, Perce Galea, and a long-term Liberal Premier, Bob Askin, ''gave organised crime its start in Australia''. This ushered in a period of NSW political history when a district court judge and a chief magistrate were brought down through their links with corruption.

The recent ICAC corruption findings against a minister and prominent businessmen is business as usual for NSW Inc. We don't need to go back to the Rum Corps to find the roots of political corruption in NSW.

Indeed, the establishment of ICAC was one of the reasons the Nick Greiner government swept to power, ending decades of Labor control of state politics and an era, which Greiner classified as ''characterised by corruption and cronyism''. As evidence of its independence, the first ICAC inquiry involved senior Country National Party figures and their land dealings in the north of NSW.

To show corruption isn't the province of any particular politics in NSW, then premier Greiner was found guilty of corrupt conduct by ICAC. Despite his vigorous defence his political career never recovered.

State and local government tendering and the corruption endemic in those commercial relationships, was a justification for the ICAC's existence. Its inquiries into these areas have been among the most successful incursions against corrupt public trust violations. Now it would be fair to say the stain of land development bribery as a feature of local council practice in this state has largely been erased. But as the ICAC findings against the Obeids and Ian Macdonald show, the price of political influence in NSW when it comes to corrupt transactions is still lucrative.

So what if we want to see a cleaner and more transparent politics in NSW? That won't happen as a result of corrupt conduct findings alone.

The Department of Public Prosecutions has now ruled that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute former minister Tony Kelly despite the ICAC finding of corrupt conduct against him late in 2011.

There are bets out now on whether Obeid and Macdonald will escape prosecution in similar fashion. So there is no misunderstanding on this, the DPP in deciding not to prosecute is not another player in a corrupt web of cover-up. An ICAC corrupt conduct determination does not require the same evidentiary burden which would satisfy a criminal charge. In determining whether or not to go to trial, it has to take the matters the ICAC investigated, and in certain circumstances seek additional facts to go forward.

On top of that, the DPP needs to determine that the prosecution is in the public interest.

At a time of political foment in this country that is not a simple issue.

The tragedy in all of this is how deeply the culture of corruption pervades NSW Inc. Justice James Wood, in his now forgotten royal commission into the corruption of the NSW police, revealed stories of malpractice and deviance, which would be enough in other circumstances to close down any other organisation forever. An examination of NSW policing today worryingly indicates many of Wood's recommendations to protect against corruption have simply fallen away.

As for corrupt politics, the temptations remain; the predators circle and the people of suspect morals line up to make a fast buck at the public's expense. Maybe Gough Whitlam was right when he suggested dumping state politics and governing Australia through a stronger and more accountable system of local and federal political frames.

On a measure of historical corruption alone, NSW gives good measure for any such political revolution. And it is no different across any state border.

Mark Findlay is a professor of criminal justice in Sydney Law School.

Follow University of Sydney Media on Twitter

Media enquiries: Katie Szittner, 02 9351 2261, 0478 316 809,