Gunshot that paralysed our biggest state government
JUST five days ago I sat down and wrote an imagined piece of writing outlining the next 521 days (count ‘em) in the life of this most excellent NSW Labor Government.
It outlined how, just one month after the John Della Bosca sex scandal, two MPs were busted running a gin distillery out of their offices, Matt Brown was recalled to the frontbench and promptly sacked again for performing a strip tease during his swearing in, NSW was stripped of its AAA rating by Moodys but awarded a XXX rating by the Eros Foundation – on and on, at the rate of one scandal a month, until the March 2011 poll. But in NSW truth is stranger than fiction. If I’d really been doing my job I would have written this:
Just five days after the John Della Bosca sex scandal, the State Government is rocked by claims that a notorious property developer, shot execution-style in his driveway with a single bullet to the head, had made a secret tape recording in the days before his death where he implicated senior Labor figures in a corruption and bribery scandal.
Quite clearly when it comes to NSW, you can’t make this stuff up.
The tape recording made by slain businessman Michael McGurk is a matter of public conjecture. It is also part of a police murder investigation, and a preliminary investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
The conjecture has come from a couple of sources. It started with claims from a friend and confidante of McGurk, colourful Sydney business identity Jim Byrnes, who said that the tape, if made public, would bring down “two or three politicians” and possibly establish a link between McGurk’s death and dodgy business dealings which involved figures within the ALP.
The claims have been scotched by Labor hardman-turned-lobbyist Graham Richardson, who revealed that he had met with Mr McGurk about six months ago on behalf of his own client, property developer Ron Medich, believing that McGurk was trying to extort some $8 million out of his former business partner in Medich.
In an interview with (his occasional employer) Channel Nine this week, Richardson described the tape as unintelligible or inaudible.
“It was a pretty low-grade attempt to gain money and he failed,” Richardson said of McGurk’s alleged extortion bid. “I told him not to waste our time.”
Without wanting to reflect in any way on Mr Byrnes or Mr Richardson, I’d personally prefer to get a sense of what is or isn’t on this tape from an independent third party, ideally the cops, or if it’s actually doing its job properly, the ICAC, than from a couple of blokes who are allies or enemies of the late Michael McGurk.
The running commentary offered by Byrnes and Richardson on the contents of this mystery cassette – and the absolutely blasé fashion in which they bowl up for their media interviews on such explosive allegations – has been a stunning demonstration of the culture of this town.
In the rest of Australia, public figures from business or politics would regard any kind of contact with a man such as Michael McGurk as a bit of a grey area, to say the least. Something you’d admit to only under duress or questioning. Certainly not something you’d seek out the media to canvass in public.
With the roguish culture of Sydney as a backdrop, and with a government that is literally paralysed and unable to shift attention from itself, the emergence of this cassette presents Nathan Rees with a massive political crisis.
In terms of public response to this affair, it almost doesn’t matter what is or isn’t on this tape. I reckon most people would assume that it’s true, or be prepared to believe that it’s true, because there is no faith left in this government – or more so, no faith left in Labor’s political culture in NSW.
Politics will always attract gougers and the carpetbaggers. I remember once being at a drinks function with Michael Costa when he was Police Minister and, out of the blue, some guy who looked like Guido the Killer Pimp introduced himself and asked if his son could take their photograph together. Before Costa could answer the flash went off. I asked Costa afterwards who the fellow was and Costa in his usual manner replied: “How the f… should I know. He’s probably a hitman and in a few years time you bastards will run our picture on the front page.”
The photo libraries across the media in this town are filled with old black and white stills of everyone from Nick Greiner to John Della Bosca having a quiet yum cha meal or cutting a ribbon in Cabramatta with an emerging and engaging community leader by the name of Phuong Ngo.
Just because you’ve been approached by a shonk doesn’t make you a shonk.
But NSW Labor has a problem in that some of its number have clearly found themselves associating with shonks, and were either aware of the fact or indifferent to it.
When you look at the cast of Dodgy Brothers operators who were allowed to wield significant influence within the Illawarra ALP, as emerged in the sex-for-development-applications scandal last year, it is clear that the culture of the ALP is open to involvement from people who are well and truly on the make.
Again, I’m not suggesting any criminal wrongdoing on the part of any of those MPs. I’m just accusing them of having really bad taste in friends.
It’s that kind of stuff, coupled with the total non-performance of this government, which means that the public is now prepared to believe pretty much anything.
Even if the police and ICAC declare that the tape is baseless, the Government will still have been damaged. It will be belted around and permanently distracted over the coming weeks, neutralising its ability to show that it is running the state.
Nathan Rees’ handling of the affair has been woeful.
With the allegations of the tape recording already in the public domain, he foolishly placed himself in a position on Sunday where he fronted the press jointly with Assistant Commissioner Dave Owens, albeit on an unrelated announcement about the rollout of taser guns, placing one of the state’s most senior cops in a position where he had to front the media on questions about a possible criminal conspiracy within the government headed by the bloke sitting three inches to his left.
When the Opposition mounted calls for ICAC to investigate Rees dismissed them as a stunt. Now that ICAC is investigating, Rees has said it’s the proper thing to do and that it’s a source of comfort that NSW has an anti-corruption outfit to get to the bottom of these things.
The good news is that since I wrote the piece I mentioned at the top it’s now only 516 days until polling day. Scratch some more crosses on your wall, NSW.
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