Until late last year, Mr Barry O’Keefe of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council (the Catholic Church’s PR unit for the royal commission) was Grand Prior of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, a particularly important position (see photos here). He also has another position of note – he is Johnny O’Keefe’s big brother. Johnny O’Keefe was a rock and roller of the 1960s, who died young, probably from substance abuse. Barry seems to often comment that it is this relationship for which he is best known.
The brothers could not have trodden paths any more different. Mr Barry O’Keefe became a pillar of the Catholic Church and the establishment. He seems to have had a finger in every pie. With the church, he not only gets around with other Catholic lawyers, he also mixes with businesspeople. When Cardinal Pell set up the Sydney Catholic Business Network, those attending the meeting included, along with Mr O’Keefe (The Catholic Weekly, 16 November, 2011):
- General Peter Cosgrove (former head of the Australian Defence Forces and chancellor of Australian Catholic University);
- Greg Smith (NSW Attorney-General and Minister for Justice);
- Michael Daley (NSW Opposition Treasurer and Opposition Minister for Finance and Services);
- Greg Donnelley (NSW Labor MLC);
- Terry Brady (Sydney Bishop);
- Julian Porteus (Sydney Bishop); and
- Peter Comensoli (Sydney Bishop).
He is not only a good Catholic and legal attack-person, he clearly has political skills. Like his father before him, he was a long-time Mayor of Mossman (Sydney). He was President of the National Trust. Other directly political positions included leading the Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy organisation, other prominent members of which included:
- Sir Harry Gibbs (former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia);
- Doug Sutherland (former Sydney Lord Mayor); and
- Sir John Atwill (former Liberal Party President).
Some of his more political activities have caused controversy. Mr B Martin, prominent Australian whistleblowers’ advocate, on his website, claims that, “Mr O’Keefe seems to spend an awful lot of time writing letters to the papers defending his organisation [the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, the ICAC] (that is when he’s not using ICAC resources to fax bulletins to the media defending the National Trust against allegations in his capacity as President of the National Trust)!”
When Kerry Jones, the head of Australians For a Constitutional Monarchy, stood (unsuccessfully) for Liberal Party pre-selection in 2000, a leaflet was distributed to selectors under the name of Mr O’Keefe supporting Mr Jones’s application. It was noted by Australianpolitics.com that, “the judge’s intervention in the internal political activities of a political party is unprecedented.” It goes on to say that, “it is usually thought to be inappropriate for a serving judge to make a contribution to partisan politics of the day. O’Keefe claims he still has rights as a private citizen.”
The political problem goes back a long way. Nearly 20 years ago, when he was nominated for the position of commissioner on the NSW ICAC, the legislative assembly passed the following resolution (NSW Legislative Assembly Hansard, 15 September 1994):
“That this House refers the matter of Justice Barry O’Keefe’s proposed appointment as ICAC Commissioner to the Joint Committee on the Independent Commission Against Corruption for reconsideration.”
The deputy leader of the opposition (The Honourable BH Vaughen, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) stated that:
“The Labor Party regards the actions of Mr Justice Barry O’Keefe in sending a letter to 800 constituents in Parramatta, in his capacity as the President of the National Trust but at the same time signing himself not only as the President but as Mr Barry S. J. O’Keefe, as a brazen interference in the affairs of the State in so far as a most important – indeed, crucial – by-election was being held at Parramatta at the same time. The Labor Party believes sincerely, as do a great number in the community, that it is beyond doubt that he interfered in the normal processes of a State by-election.”
The Honourable MR Egan was even more critical: “We are not about to have appointed as commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption a member of the Liberal Party’s campaign team.” Further, Mr Egan claimed that, “It was an absolute disgrace that he should have entered the political fray in that way. He knew what he was doing. He is not an innocent.”
Finally, Mr Honourable Mr Egan stated that: “After all the things that have happened to the Government over the last few years as a result of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, it has decided that the only way it will let the commission continue is by appointing a stooge to run it.”
Mr O’Keefe is looking more and more the correct choice to cope with this royal commission problem for the Catholic Church. Oh yeah, if only the victims have support of this magnitude.
TOMORROW: More from Hansard
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)