Recently at the NSW Liberal 2011 election launch Tony Abbott said that the current NSW ALP was the most corrupt government since Governor Bligh. It’s a snappy line and stirs powerful historic images.
Now this is not a defence of the current government but there may be a few other contenders for that title closer to Tony’s home that he failed to mention (Not to mention that Governor Bligh was not corrupt, unpopular maybe, but not corrupt-indeed he was rolled by a cartel of property owners, colonial developers and a disgruntled military who he tried to bring to heel)
In 1965 Sir Robert, or Robin, William, or Bob, Askin was elected Premier of NSW after 24 years of labour government. Askin had started work at 15 as a bank clerk and served in the army in WWII, fighting in New Guinea and Borneo.
On return he went back to the bank with a new nickname-Slippery Sam, in reference to the illegal SP bookmaking he had run in the army, a trade he continued in his time in the bank.
Askin served four consecutive terms as Premier of NSW from 1965 until his retirement in 1975 and during this period he oversaw the introduction of a series of reforms that changed the state for the better-legal aid, breath testing for drivers, health labels on cigarettes and the establishment of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
However it was also under his government that NSW sank into a mire of corruption at all levels of government that easily beats anything before or since.
During the Askin years organised crime became a business in NSW, with some claiming that Askin was aware of it and maybe benefiting from it. The case against Askin was put forward in most detail in journalist David Hickie’s book The Prince and the Premier.
Askin’s years as an SP bookmaker and his genuine love of the races kept him close to bookies in a period when they were not know as the brightest legal lights and it was alleged Askin continued to make illegal bets when Premier, even calling them in from Parliament.
On his retirement he was given $55,000 from book makers as a ‘going away present’, that’s big money now but was huge in 1975 and well beyond the average annual wage of $6200.
As well as the bookies, illegal casinos flourished during the Askin years. Run by the Sydney underworld, some with mafia connections in the USA, the casinos operated openly with protection from the Sydney police and the police commissioners. In 1977 it was alleged that even Askin himself was involved, with operators paying him between $30,000 and $40,000 to allow them to continue.
Askin was also alleged to have sold knighthoods to his friends and allies for $60,000 each. One of his associates had claimed to have organised at least 6 knighthoods with payments to Askin for each one.
Maybe the most infamous of his tterances was in relation to the Vietnam War. Askin was in a car with PM Harold Holt and US President Lydon B Johnson in Sydney when his motorcade was stopped by the protesters. When told by the police what was happening, he reputedly commented he wished they could ‘Ride the bastards over’.
There is some conjecture whether he actually ever said it, but he never denied it and it sums his way of working up nicely. Not everyone agrees he was corrupt, but if he wasn’t he sure knew alot of people who were.