Same old Labor? NSW opposition minister sacked after raising corruption concerns

NSW Labor’s corrupt past is proving hard to keep buried with opposition minister Tania Mihailuk being sacked this morning after a parliamentary speech earlier this week raising links between party rival Khal Asfour, convicted criminal Eddie Obeid and Labor identity Bechara Khouri, with whom Asfour — then Bankstown mayor — met in 2016.

The decision by NSW Labor Leader Chris Minns — revealed to 2GB shockjock Ben Fordham — raises questions about Labor’s commitment to integrity and its ability to avoid repeating the dark years of its last term in office, which saw staggering levels of corrupt conduct involving Obeid and another former minister, Ian Macdonald, and continuing prosecutions of former ministerial colleagues Joe Tripodi and Tony Kelly, as well as links with a Chinese billionaire that persisted well into its years in opposition.

Mihailuk has been accused of using parliamentary privilege to attack Asfour, who will head NSW Labor’s upper house ticket at the March 2023 election, following a brawl over seats caused by a redistribution that abolished the seat of Lakemba. Mihailuk is in the neighbouring seat of Bankstown.

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Same Old Labor? NSW Opposition Minister Sacked After Raising Corruption Concerns
Eddie Obeid - Same Old Labor? NSW Opposition Minister Sacked After Raising Corruption Concerns

It’s only last month that Mihailuk herself was targeted by internal enemies with the leaking to News Corp of claims of her being “abusive” and “intimidating” to staff. Minns stood by Mihailuk at the time. He now says Mihailuk failed to respond to his demand that she not use parliamentary privilege to raise corruption allegations about colleagues.

Asfour — who strongly rejects Mihailuk’s claims and invited her to repeat them outside Parliament — is currently mayor of Canterbury-Bankstown, a council formed from the merger of Canterbury and Bankstown councils.

Canterbury Council was a cesspit of property developer-led corruption uncovered by the NSW ICAC in its “Operation Dasha”, which ensnared former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire. ICAC found three former officials had engaged in “serious corrupt conduct” and referred possible charges against them to the Director of Public Prosecutions, as well as possible charges against others, including Maguire.

The integrity spotlight has been firmly on the NSW Coalition in recent years, not just with Maguire, the resignation of Gladys Berejiklian (the subject of a continuing inquiry by ICAC), and the recent John Barilaro scandal, but with the finding by ICAC of serious corrupt conduct by former Liberal MP John Sidoti in relation to property development in Five Dock.

In comparison, Labor’s Chris Minns has been able to project a fresh image untainted by the years of corruption and chaos when Labor was last in office. But allegations about Asfour reflect the danger for all parties in drawing on former local councillors as state candidates.

Such was the state of corruption and untrustworthiness in local property development approval processes in Sydney that the state government in 2017 removed all significant planning decisions from the control of local councils in the city, substituting expert local planning panels.

Even local councillors with integrity and a commitment to the public interest have found it difficult to avoid becoming embroiled in corruption investigations, particularly when they are in the Labor or Liberal parties and can be targeted by state MPs, party enemies, party-aligned lobbyists or “fixers” pushing the interests of property developers.

Labor’s problem is that, given its track record, it cannot be given even the slightest benefit of the doubt when it comes to corruption. It must be seen to be completely transformed from the bad old days of the 2000s. It’s hard to see how the sacking of Mihailuk fits that requirement.

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