Ex-Labor leader’s ‘smoke joke’ on Dastyari in coal trial
SCANDAL-plagued former NSW opposition leader Luke Foley says dealing with his controversial ex-colleague Sam Dastyari was like "wrestling with smoke" while testifying at the mining licence conspiracy trial of two former Labor MPs.
Eddie Obeid, his 50-year-old son Moses and Ian Macdonald deny conspiring for the then resources minister to grant a lucrative exploration licence on coal-rich Obeid family land in the Bylong Valley between 2007 and 2009.
Mr Foley has kept a low profile since resigning as Labor leader in November 2018 amid sexual harassment claims, but on Thursday the 49-year-old consultant gave evidence at the trio's NSW Supreme Court trial for conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.
In 2017, Mr Dastyari, then a federal Labor senator, quit in disgrace over his dealings with Chinese billionaire and political donor Huang Xiangmo. Mr Foley was asked what it has been like to work with him over the years.
"Sam? Like wrestling with smoke most of the time," he said, sparking laughter in the public gallery.
Macdonald's lawyer has labelled claims he favoured Eddie Obeid with the Mount Penny licence to repay the powerbroker's past support and secure future backing as "pure speculation and conjecture."
As the party's assistant general secretary, Mr Foley organised a lunch meeting with Macdonald, then-federal Labor MP Anthony Albanese and then-senator George Campbell to discuss preselection ahead of the 2007 state election.
Laughter erupted in court when Mr Foley assured Justice Elizabeth Fullerton that the lunch "wasn't a particularly long one."
Also eating with them at Sydney's Noble House Chinese restaurant was the then National Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union Doug Cameron, along with the group's current boss Paul Bastian.
Macdonald "very forcefully" argued his case to run again to help cover the costly education of his intellectually disabled step daughter, and because he wanted to attend the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Mr Foley said.
Having been in office since 1988, Macdonald had the support of the premier and influential union bosses to continue, but Mr Foley declared he'd "had a good run and ought to not contest the 2007 election in order to give others a chance to come forward."
On Monday Mr Campbell testified that he wanted a metal worker to take the upper house ticket, adding: "little did I know that Mr Foley himself had his eye on the job."
Under cross-examination by Macdonald's lawyer, Mr Foley said despite being urged by a number of people to run himself, he was "very explicit… it would be too early for me to leave Sussex Street for parliament by early 2007."
Macdonald would soon be guaranteed preselection on the proviso he promised to resign in 2009, well before his eight-year term ended.
Former premier Morris Iemma has also testified that Macdonald had his own power base to ensure his political survival, adding that Obeid was irrelevant to preselection decisions in the hard left faction.
Mr Albanese is expected to give evidence next as the judge-alone trial continues.