More From Hansard (Or: Old Enemies Never Die)

Yesterday’s posting covered criticisms in the NSW Parliament of Mr Barry O’Keefe of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council (the Catholic Church’s PR unit for the royal commission) at the time of his appointment as ICAC commissioner. By the time he finished that appointment, criticism had not declined and, if anything, had increased.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of “parliamentary privilege” in Australia, what a politician says in the parliament is not subject to normal defamation laws. If they repeat a claim outside the parliament then they do fall under the law. What this means in practice is that allegations made in the parliament are not subjected to tests of veracity.

Today’s article is based on criticisms of Mr O’Keefe by Mr Gibson, the Member for Blacktown, in Hansard.

In the first account, Mr Gibson refers to his successful defamation action against Mr O’Keefe:

“… should be asked whether he was appointed Chief Judge of the Commercial Division of the Supreme Court on 19 May 1993, which just happened to be one day before his sixtieth birthday on 20 May 1993, knowing full well that to qualify for the State superannuation scheme you have to be a member before you turn 60. It would seem that Commissioner O’Keefe was very lucky or worked the system to his greatest advantage. The ICAC made public yesterday my defamation case against the Honourable Barry Stanley John O’Keefe, AM, QC, but failed to say how much money was spent to defend the commissioner. I was paid with an ICAC cheque. I would like the ICAC committee to investigate this. I took legal action against Commissioner O’Keefe personally, not the ICAC, and it was for conduct not within his charter. The defamation did not happen on my case; it happened at a public meeting, nothing to do with my case. He toyed with my reputation whilst on a frolic of his own … look at the travel taken by Commissioner O’Keefe and Mrs O’Keefe during the last five years, especially upgrading business class travel to first class on many trips. I want to know whether this was paid for by the ICAC.”

Later in the same speech, Mr Gibson refers to a very important point regarding Mr O’Keefe’s suitability to return to his former position as a judge:

“I ask the Attorney General one simple question: How could someone found guilty of being biased take up a position as a judge in the very court in which he was found guilty? … apparently he is the leper of the legal system, and it has been suggested that the Supreme Court will not accept him for re-appointment at any cost … Anyone found guilty of bias by the Supreme Court could never take on a position as a Supreme Court judge …”

In a speech on the 1st of November, 2000, Mr Gibson makes claims that would indicate that he believed that Mr O’Keefe had been, “milking the taxpayer”:

“His salary package, which was published yesterday in the ICAC annual report, amounted to well over $500,000 per year. Compare that with the Prime Minister’s salary. It is nearly double. But the most interesting part of his salary package was accrued annual leave of $139,887, which was paid to him in November last year. In actual fact more than six-months leave was accrued in five years. I would like to know the make-up of the annual leave and how it accrued. I would also like details of the fringe benefits that were included in the report for the year 1999 to the year 2000, which totalled an amazing $55,696. I am staggered to note that his contract included first-class air travel for his spouse; repairs and maintenance for his nominated private vehicle. In the early days it was his Bentley— only a $300,000 vehicle that every battler can afford—and he finished up with A Mercedes. His telephone and security at his home premises were also paid for. It is also a fact that Commissioner O’Keefe had paintings hanging in his ICAC office that he brought from home from time to time. I did not see anything in the report, but I believe that the ICAC and the taxpayers of this State have been paying something in the vicinity of $5,000 per year to insure his paintings that he hung in his ICAC office. The commissioner is the greatest example in the history of this State of someone milking the taxpayer.”

In a very damning speech on the 30th of November, 2000, Mr Gibson refers to Mr O’Keefe as, “the biggest crook of all”:

“Six weeks before Barry O’Keefe left ICAC, he paid bonuses to each of his directors of $32,300. This was done and paid for, contrary to the Premier’s memorandum. ICAC found that there was no performance review relating to any of the directors at all. There was no proof that the directors were even worthy It could be seen as corruption of a bonus. For what were they paid? … the biggest crook of all—Barry O’Keefe.”

On the 2nd of November, 2000, Mr Gibson pulls no punches when he states that: “there is no doubt that the previous commissioner, Barry O’Keefe stuck his nose in the trough and had a really good guzzle.”

Finally, on the 19th of September, 2001, Mr Gibson makes a statement that could well be shared by many NSW voters: “Are judges a protected species? One might assume so in this case.”

Given that official releases from the Catholic Church would give the impression that everybody has the greatest respect for Mr O’Keefe, it is important to point out that notwithstanding this, he does have his detractors.

TOMORROW: The CEO of the Catholic PR unit

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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