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ICAC to hit major parties at election

Mike Baird
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From a seemingly impregnable position, the NSW Liberal Party is developing vulnerable cracks before next year’s election.

Addressing the first joint party-room meeting after his landslide win in the 2011 election, premier-elect Barry O’Farrell offered a stern warning to his colleagues.

“There is a huge job that is ahead of us, and there is no room for complacency or scandals, because that’s what brought Labor down,” he warned.

Mr O’Farrell’s words may prove prophetic.

There is a huge job that is ahead of us, and there is no room for complacency or scandals, because that’s what brought Labor down.

He’s now gone from the state’s top job after misleading the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and four government MPs have also been relegated to the crossbenches and one has stepped down from the ministry.

But that may just be the start of it.

Influential right-wing upper house MP and Police Minister Mike Gallacher has been forced to stand down from the ministry after the ICAC heard serious allegations that he hatched a “corruption scheme” to funnel banned donations to the Liberal Party.

Energy minister Chris Hartcher, Chris Spence, Darren Webber and Marie Ficarra have all withdrawn from the Liberal Party amid corruption allegations.

Eddie Obeid outside the ICAC hearing.
Eddie Obeid outside the ICAC hearing. Photo: Getty

The Liberal carnage comes after ICAC last year recommended criminal charges against Labor figures Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald who were found to have acted corruptly.

Former Labor NSW premier Barrie Unsworth says both major parties have been damaged by the revelations.

“It’s like a football game that’s nil-all,” he told AAP.

“Both sides have suffered as a result of the inquiries.

“Now, how that develops into the political process is yet to be seen.”

He said he has been disappointed by the ICAC revelations.

“I find it quite distressing that members of parliament and people in the political process should act in the way they have,” he said.

Rodney Cavalier, a former minister in Neville Wran’s government, says the ICAC inquiries will likely cost both Labor and the Liberals votes.

“I think you’re going to see an increase in Greens, Independents and non-aligned people,” he said.

He said the ICAC revelations show that the “party-political system had been corrupted”.

“The capacity of corruption to permeate the two major parties makes the electorate properly wary of casting a vote for them,” he said.

“I think it’s a very good thing when the electorate punishes parties that have been miscreants.

“But I hate the idea of Independents coming through as I believe in a two-party system.”

AAP Images
Mike Gallacher has been forced to resign. Photo: AAP

Dr Stewart Jackson, a political academic from the University of Sydney, says the ICAC saga has confirmed the belief that politicians can’t be trusted.

He agrees that it will likely see an increase in the minor party vote, making the 2015 election more competitive.

“But I can’t actually see the conservative parties losing at this point, even though they’re going to be damaged,” he said.

Upper house Greens MP John Kaye accepts that his party could benefit from the corruption probe.

“It’s likely that the voters will feel a pox on everybody’s house, particularly those who have been caught up in corruption,” Dr Kaye said.

“But this isn’t how we want to win votes … there’s nothing good about what’s happening in NSW politics now.”

He urged other parties in the state to adopt the Greens’ policy of not accepting campaign donations from corporations.

“That (policy) has left the Greens in the position of having never been involved in influence peddling,” he said.

Premier Mike Baird has warned colleagues found to have acted improperly that he will be their “worst nightmare” and that he will work hard to win back the electorate’s trust.

If the last few weeks are anything to go by, Mr Baird might need to turn political panel-beater to knock his crew into shape.