By JAMES HARRISON
In the past week the public have learned that two disgraced former Australian MP’s are eligible for release from custody and an ex-Prime Minister visited a convicted paedophile in gaol.
Milton Orkopoulos, former Aboriginal affairs minister, who was sentenced a minimum of nine years and three months in gaol for child sex offences and drug charges, although out on bail, will be eligible for release from prison no later than 3 January.
Orkopoulos returns to the community with former NSW Labor Party powerbroker Eddie Obeid, who has served three years for failing to disclose his family business interest in Circular Quay café leases.
Meanwhile, on 2 December, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was filmed by Channel 7 leaving the Melbourne prison where convicted child sex offender Cardinal George Pell is incarcerated. “Look, I was simply visiting a friend, that’s all,” Abbott told a waiting reporter after his 45-minute visit. In December 2018, Pell was found guilty of five convictions for molesting two choirboys in Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral 22 years ago.
The political criminals
Orkopoulos was denied his first parole attempt following several misconduct charges, including three drug charges and failure to participate in a sex offenders’ program. The drug charges centre on his repeated use of buprenorphine, an opioid used to treat opioid addiction and chronic pain, which he described as a ‘coping strategy’ to get through prison.
Orkopoulos’ predatory behaviour occurred between 1995 and 2006. The abuse towards young male victims aged between 15 and 20 involved Orkopoulos luring his victims with cannabis, heroin and alcohol before sexually abusing them.
Orkopoulos will be released with a series of parole conditions, including: total drug prohibition; he cannot be in the company of someone sixteen years or younger without another adult present; and he cannot contact or stalk his victims or their family members.
Eddie Obeid, a member of the NSW Upper House between 1991 and 2011, was sentenced in 2016 to five years’ imprisonment, with a three-year non-parole period. He has been approved for release on 14 Dec. The 76-year-old’s parole was granted on several considerations, including: his advanced age; that it was his first incarceration; his satisfactory prison performance; and his involvement in counselling whilst in custody.
His parole conditions restrict his economic freedom and his ability to leave the country or state without the permission of authorities.
Tony Abbott’s 2 Dec visit to Pell has been a point of controversy. Former Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch tweeted, “For Tony Abbott, a former Prime Minister, to visit Pell, a convicted paedophile, is a disgrace and a cruel insult to his victims.” However, others have defended Abbott’s right to visit Pell, such as Geraldine Massey who wrote in Spectator Australia, “In simpler times such a visit would have been viewed by many as a commendable act of charity or, dare I say it, a corporal work of mercy.”
Public treatment of political criminals
Criminals with political power in Australian society seem to face less condemnation than those without. In Abbott’s case, maintaining his friendship with Pell is not unusual, as it is common for associates of criminals to assert their innocence, despite a verdict. Pell holding the highest position in the Australian Catholic Church also helps his image in the public eye as a man of character.
Obeid and Orkopoulos have both endured widespread criticism for their behaviour, however the level of public support and forgiveness they’ve received is unusual, considering the severity of their crimes. Perhaps the voting public are unwilling to accept that some of their leaders are corrupt, as it questions the legitimacy of their government.