Eddie Obeid has ‘limited life expectancy’, Supreme Court told

Former Labor minister Eddie Obeid is facing jail time over charges relating to Circular Quay cafes. Photo: Ben Rushton Eddie Obeid with members of his family and legal team during the trial. Photo: Peter Rae
Nanjing Night Net

Former Labor minister Eddie Obeid, centre, leaves the Supreme Court after his sentencing hearing on Thursday. Photo: Daniel Munoz

Obeid, left, is facing jail time over charges relating to Circular Quay cafes. Photo: Daniel Munoz

Former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid has a “limited life expectancy” and should not be sent to jail for misconduct over his business dealings at Circular Quay, his lawyers have told the Supreme Court.

But the prosecution told Obeid’s sentencing hearing on Thursday the 73-year-old former minister was “far from being at death’s door” and “ill health cannot be allowed to become a licence to commit crime”.

A Supreme Court jury found Obeid guilty on June 28 of misconduct in public office over his family’s secret business dealings at Circular Quay. The Crown is pushing for a jail sentence.

The court heard Obeid lobbied Steve Dunn, a friend and senior bureaucrat in the NSW Maritime Authority, to secure favourable conditions for tenants at Circular Quay without revealing his family had an interest in two cafe leases on the bustling wharves.

Obeid’s sentencing hearing was delayed twice after he suffered a stroke in August.

In written submissions to the court, Obeid’s legal team said the former Labor minister had “a limited life expectancy and … as a matter of compassion this factor alone provides a ground for leniency in sentence”.

If a term of imprisonment was imposed, it should be less than two years and suspended or served by way of an Intensive Corrections Order which could involve home detention rather than jail time, the defence submissions said.

But Mr Neil said home detention was “simply not appropriate”.

He said the Crown accepted conditions in prison were “somewhat more uncomfortable” but Obeid would receive adequate medical treatment for a “constellation” of medical conditions.

Obeid’s stroke was a “significant unanticipated event” but “fortunately he seems to have emerged from that … probably as well as could be expected”.

Brad Hughes, SC, acting for Obeid, prompted laughter in the public gallery when he said the former minister’s 20 years of service in Parliament “should not just be disregarded”.

Mr Hughes said there had been speculation that as a consequence of his conviction Obeid would be stripped of his parliamentary pension, “to which he is richly entitled”.

The former powerbroker had suffered “the humiliation, the destruction of his name, of the Obeid name” and it was a punishment that both he and his family, including his grandchildren, continued to suffer.

Obeid’s legal team argued the volumes of adverse publicity he had received should also be taken into account in considering his punishment.

However, Mr Neil said the publicity was understandable given that he was a politician on trial for criminally misusing his public office for his own benefit.

Obeid’s legal team added in written submissions that a prison sentence would have a “potentially catastrophic impact on his wife of over 50 years, Judith Obeid”.

A psychological report set out “the harsh and impoverished circumstances of Mr Obeid’s background and upbringing”, the submissions said.

Obeid had “emigrated with his mother and three sisters to join his father who died in 1953” when Obeid was “only 9 years of age”.

The report suggested there was “some evidence of remorse” and Obeid had “always felt obliged to fight on behalf of people who had been treated unfairly and standing up for the underdog”.

Obeid now had “considerable regret” he had ever contacted Mr Dunn asking him to meet a commercial mediator acting for a number of disgruntled tenants at Circular Quay but he was acting in the interests of tenants generally, his lawyers said.

But Mr Neil said the Crown was “unable to accept there was any remorse” on Obeid’s part and his only regret appeared to be he was caught.

Obeid’s legal team said in written submissions “a term of imprisonment is not called for”. While the Crown said the offence involved “very serious criminality” and he acted in “blatant disregard” of his duties, the defence said the objective seriousness of Obeid’s conduct was “at the very bottom of the scale”.

Mr Hughes said it involved an “act of omission rather than commission”, in that he failed to disclose his family had an interest in the cafe leases.

The defence tendered a report from a medical expert suggesting a term of imprisonment would reduce Obeid’s life expectancy by half from 14.25 years to 7.3 years, indicating a life expectancy of 80.3 years.

“The time he’s got left on this planet, not to be too dramatic about it, is [limited],” Mr Hughes said.

“Jail is not conducive to immediate health. If he was to collapse in a particular part of the jail … it’s not always easy to gain access.

“It’s not the same as being treated in the community.”

But the Crown said the conclusions on life expectancy were “untenable” and pointed to maximum penalties of up to 10 years in prison for misconduct in public office under laws in other states.

In NSW, the offence is not codified in an Act of Parliament, making comparable offences in other states relevant.

Justice Robert Beech-Jones will deliver his decision on sentence on Thursday December 15.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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