Books

Kate McClymont & Linton Besser
He Who Must Be Obeid

Kate McClymont deserves her title as the queen of Australian journalism. Her peerless investigative correspondence is synonymous with the terrifying underworld power-lords that lurk in a glittering Sydney’s shadows. She has brilliantly covered the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and the story of Eddie Obeid: the newspaper proprietor, family man, and perhaps most corrupt politician this country has ever seen.

Here McClymont’s teamed up with Linton Besser, the Four Corners rising star whose documentary on Obeid is a must-watch, for an enthralling account of a man who conned an entire state and nearly got away with it.

Corruption in state politics is nothing new. But the world Obeid concocted is astounding in its greedy flamboyance. McClymont and Besser lay out the details of every dodgy deal and corrupt move – the fires at Obeid’s printing presses, his cafes at Circular Quay, his rumblings at Sydney Water. The extent of his financial mischief can be overwhelming. But Obeid and co’s sheer gall and the heartbreaking testimonies of the people he dudded draw you in.

Of course, there are two Obeids: a businessman and a faceless man. His rolling of three successive premiers is legendary. When Bob Carr gives way to Morris Iemma, Obeid became “one of the Premier’s most trusted advisors”. Soon, though, Obeid mutters, “We thought he was one of us but, mark my words, by this time next week, he won’t be premier.” Next, exit Nathan Rees and enter Kristina Keneally. Obeid always hovers, no longer the “kingmaker” but the “kingslayer”. Throughout Labor’s reign in NSW, he plots and punishes.

Obeid is the star but there are other fascinating glimpses: Graham Richardson, “the bagman” who’s happy to overlook his mate’s misdeeds to get the ethnic vote for Labor; and piteous Bob Carr, the beleaguered premier who just wants Obeid to stop making trouble. Neither emerges looking pretty.

By the time ICAC rolls along, Obeid says he has “just a 1 per cent chance of being prosecuted”. Even at the end, the old crook is defiant and dazzling. The authors speak for everyone when they say, “He just doesn’t get it.”

Their humour and insight into this remarkable old conman is enchanting. He Who Must Be Obeid is the definitive account of this sorry saga and McClymont and Besser are as good as Australian journalism gets.  MI

Vintage, 432pp, $34.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 16, 2014 as "Kate McClymont & Linton Besser, He Who Must Be Obeid". Subscribe here.

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