Disgraced former NSW Labor minister Eddie Obeid has been taken into custody in dramatic fashion on Thursday, after being sentenced to five years in jail, with a minimum non-parole period of three years.
The former powerbroker was found guilty in June of misconduct in public office.
The conviction relates to Obeid’s failure to disclose his family’s business interests in cafe leases at Sydney’s Circular Quay, while lobbying a senior bureaucrat about the rights of waterfront retailers in 2007 when he was a member of the NSW Upper House.
Obeid’s barrister today started proceedings to appeal against the conviction and sentence, immediately after the penalty was handed down, as well as formally applying for bail.
Justice Beech-Jones formally refused Obeid’s bail application and he was taken into custody.
Obeid’s wife of 51 years, Judith, collapsed into sobs and was escorted from court as her husband emptied his pockets and was led away by court officials to be transported to Silverwater Prison.
Lobbying comparable to bribery: Judge
Supreme Court Justice Robert Beech-Jones described Obeid’s crime as “very serious”, as he detailed the reasons behind his sentencing decision.
He said he did not agree with the defence team’s argument that Obeid’s crime was at the lowest end of seriousness.
In considering the sentence, Justice Beech-Jones compared Obeid’s use of his position to advance private interests to bribery, noting there is no specified maximum penalty for the offence of wilful misconduct in public office.
“The more senior the public official, the greater the level of public trust,” he said.
“Corruption by elected officials consumes democracies.”
Justice Beech-Jones said Obeid was found to have abused public trust “to advance the financial interests of himself or at least his family”.
“He intentionally abused the public trust proposed in him as a member of the legislative council of NSW.”
Justice Beech-Jones said Obeid “duped” NSW Marine Authority bureaucrat Steven Dunn by lobbying him without disclosing family’s financial interests.
“[The lobbying] was not undertaken because [Obeid] in any way believed it was in the interests of the public or the electorate,” he said.
Justice Beech-Jones said it was “inconceivable” that Obeid did not know he should not use his position in that way, adding he believed the behaviour was deliberate.
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He said Obeid’s crime was a single phone call and “the end result did not cause a change in commercial lease policy”.
He went on to observe that Obeid’s crime was not one of “omission” (failing to disclose family interests) and his “proper duty” was to not contact Mr Dunn at all.
“If Mr Obeid had not wilfully abused his position as a parliamentarian, then his life and career would be a testament to the values of hard work, family and public service,” Justice Beech-Jones said.
“Instead, his time in public life has produced a very different legacy.”
The judge ran through the medical conditions suffered by Obeid, including a recent stroke, diabetes and heart problems.
But he noted the 73-year-old’s health is currently stable and said he was satisfied he would receive adequate care if he was incarcerated.
Appeal proceedings already underway
Members of Obeid’s family were watching on in court, including his wife.
During the 90-minute sentencing, Obeid sat impassively in the dock and remained stoney-faced as his penalty was handed down.
His barrister Guy Reynolds SC immediately began proceedings to appeal against the conviction.
He outlined the terms of the appeal they intend to file, including that there was a “miscarriage of justice”.
Obeid’s appeal process is underway, but it is unlikely to be heard in court before March.