Comment: ICAC's tragedy of Shakespearean proportions

Former NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell speaking to the media outside of ICAC (AAP)

Whether we like it or not, the Independent Commission Against Corruption is seriously starting to immerse itself in popular Australian culture, particularly within New South Wales.

From comedians issuing "Democracy Enablers" at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney through to demands for a Federal Independent Commission to be developed, the public has undoubtedly become more immersed than ever in the events surrounding our nation's politicians and the potentially nefarious activities that some of them engage in.

While only a few years ago most people would have been pushed to have recognised the names of people such as Eddie Obeid, Arthur Sinodinos, Ian MacDonald, Nick Di Girolamo, Joe Tripodi, Chris Hartcher, Eric Roozendaal and Mike Gallacher amongst others, the ICAC has essentially shone a bright media spotlight on the state of politics within New South Wales in ways that most people never thought possible.

Needless to say, this unique level of public attention has also had the influence of dimming the light of some of the state's most prominent politicians, with firstly a bottle of 1959 Penfolds Grange Hermitage and now a looming $150,000 donation from a property developer in order to fund an office researcher between 2009 and 2012 seriously dimming the political career of the now former Premier, Barry O'Farrell.

But while ICAC may have developed a reputation for devouring the careers of more politicians than a cut snake can eat rats of late, it's undeniable that the commission has become as much a public spectacle over recent years as it is a well oiled corruption fighting machine. 

Replicating some of the finest themes from various Shakespearean plays such as Hamlet, MacBeth and The Merchant of Venice, the public's attention has been frequently grasped with the overwhelming desire to know who's stabbed who in the back in order to get their “pound of flesh”, while also being enthralled by the rapturous nature of a witty political body count being writ large.

Needless to say, that thirst for the exposure of potentially tainted political, bureaucratic and economic blood within the state over recent years has made the media a potent force in the fight against public corruption, even as many of the nation's media outlets are struggling with changing business models and revenue streams.

This has been exemplified by politicians, such as the former Treasurer Eric Roozendaal, inadvertently giving the media fresh content throughout most of this inquiry as they've sat within the public gallery.

"I thought the evidence on Newcastle Ports (Corporation) today was very good evidence", Roozendaal stated recently in regards to the former CEO of Newcastle ports and anti-Tinkler coal loader proponent Garry Webb, while scurrying along a rain-drenched Pitt Street with his barrister and a media scrum in tow.

Furthermore, with journalists and other media professionals being able to provide almost instantaneous coverage of proceedings via Twitter and other media platforms, the media has quickly become the dominant power behind the corruption watchdog over recent years.

In being able to cover everything from the deeply personal war of words between Barristers within the hearing room through to documenting the elaborate and often lengthy escapades of politicians from both sides of the parliament from the commission, the inquiries into the political dominions of the Terrigals (Labor) and Hard-Right (Liberals) factions of New South Wales politics have placed more information squarely into the faces of voters than ever before.

Consequentially, you could almost say that we've seen “Two parties following one path”, as this enthralling web of political intrigue has run riot across the parliament and beyond.

But in a world where dollars rule and public image is key, where does the theatrics surrounding NSW politics end and the rule of law ultimately prevail, in ways that alleviate both the concerns of the courts and the public alike?

Coincidentally, this is an issue that the Government has previously recognised, with a temporary "Special ICAC Prosecutions Unit" having been commissioned in order to streamline the development of corruption charges against individuals such as Eddie Obeid and Ian MacDonald last year.

With a budget of approximately $2 million and access to a wide trove of information, it was expected that the task force targeting Obeid and MacDonald would reach a speedy conclusion on whether or not the Director of Public Prosecutions could lay criminal charges against them.  However 12 months on, the task force's lack of identifiable progress has only served to significantly embolden Obeid's taunting during his public statements.

"My legal advice is that the DPP will not lay any charges," Obeid said back on the 5th of June to a large media scrum, directly outside the gates of his Hunters Hill mansion.

Needless to say, it'll be interesting to see if Obeid remains the only politician taunting the public as the ICAC's investigations into corruption continue to proceed.

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