Former NSW treasurer Michael Costa reckons he and Pulp Fiction’s underworld “cleaner” Winston Wolfe have a lot in common.
They both solve problems.
While Harvey Keitel’s character The Wolf hid bodies, Mr Costa has told a corruption inquiry he cleaned up “out of control” costs – including limousine rides, palatial offices and pole dancers – at the Obeid-linked Australian Water Holdings (AWH).
Mr Costa told the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) his relationship with corrupt former MP Eddie Obeid was strained in 2011 when the fallen Labor powerbroker and his son sounded him out about taking the AWH chairmanship.
“I’m not a hater,” Mr Costa said on Thursday.
“Some politicians like to hate forever. I took the view that these events were in the past.”
He took the meeting.
And, though he was reluctant to do so, he also took the chairman’s job for $150,000 a year.
He was taking over from Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos, who is said to have received a $200,000 salary for about 100 hours of work.
Mr Costa said he was “horrified” when he eventually got a look at the company’s books.
Mr Costa told the ICAC that even as AWH was in “open warfare” with its sole customer, Sydney Water, and directors were going to shareholders asking for money, the company was paying three executives above $650,000.
He said expenses uncovered by BG&E executive Peter Canaway – whose company threw AWH a $5 million lifeline, and who would go on to become AWH chairman – were “quite staggering”.
“Limousines, I think he did mention pole dancing, I don’t know what that was all about. But it was clear the expenses were out of control,” he said.
The parlous state of the company’s finances prompted Mr Costa to embark on a cost-cutting regime, halving most salaries.
“This may not literally have applied to you, Mr Costa, but everybody was going to take a haircut,” Mr Watson quipped to Mr Costa as the witness’s scalp glinted in the hearing room lights.
“I felt like that bloke in the Pulp Fiction movie,” Mr Costa said.
“Winston Wolfe. Mr Cleaner.”
The inquiry continues.