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The Department of Premier and Cabinet has hired a former senior NSW public servant as chief economist – an Adelaide-raised and educated former pop singer who was investigated as part of a NSW ICAC inquiry into disgraced former Labor MP, Eddie Obeid Sr.

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Mark Duffy, a former Director-General of the NSW Department of Water and Energy now working as a Sydney lawyer, will return to his home town after leaving here in the 1980s to pursue a music career in Sydney.

Duffy, also a published author on economics, was exonerated by the ICAC in one of its inquiries into the behavior of Obeid – a former Labor powerbroker in the NSW state parliament.

He was found by the ICAC to have been an “unwitting” player in Obeid’s corrupt conduct in relation to the granting of water licences for an Obeid family property.

The ICAC investigation cleared Duffy of wrongdoing, finding his conduct “though impetuous and unwise in some respects, was not reprehensible , nor was it improper”.

In a summary of its findings, the ICAC said that Obeid “engaged in corrupt conduct by misusing his position and influence as an MP to benefit his family’s financial interests by engaging then DWE director-general Mark Duffy so that, in the carrying out (of) his official functions, Mr Duffy would unwittingly fulfil Edward Obeid Sr’s expectations that his financial interests with respect to the water licences affecting Cherrydale Park would be favoured”.

Duffy will start in his DPC position in the last week in April.

In a statement to InDaily, a departmental spokesperson said “the role of Chief Economist was advertised both locally and nationally, as part of an extensive search to find the best person for the job”.

“The department is confident in Mr Duffy’s abilities to take on this role, based on his considerable experience. In relation to his appearance before the New South Wales ICAC, the Department is of the view that this will have no bearing on his ability to do an outstanding job, and note the ICAC made no finding of improper conduct against Mr Duffy. Referee checks supported this assessment and his suitability of character and expertise for the role.”

DPC staff were told of the appointment this week in an email from deputy chief executive Tahnya Donaghy.

“Mark brings to the role significant experience from the NSW public service, including in the Department of Trade and Investment, Industry and Investment NSW, the Department of Water and Energy and the NSW Ministry of Transport,” Donaghy wrote.

“Of note, during his time in the NSW State Government Mark held responsibility for the strategic leadership of the NSW Energy function including Chairing the NSW Electricity Network Review where he delivered significant reforms. He holds a Bachelor of Economics and Law from the University of Adelaide and is a recipient of a British Council Scholarship to the London School of Economics.”

Duffy told InDaily that while the ICAC investigation had been “harrowing”, he was happy with its ultimate findings about his conduct.

“In the circumstances of the propositions being put to the ICAC, I’m not unhappy with the generality of its findings,” he said.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… I think I will be able to withstand other things that are thrown at me.”

He said he didn’t want to comment on the debate going on about the potential for ICAC investigations to do “massive damage to people”.

Duffy grew up in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs, completing a law and economics double degree at the University of Adelaide.

He left for Sydney with dreams of making it big in music after his ska/pop band, Invisible Mendez, scored a two-record deal with a major label. The band, with Duffy as lead singer and songwriter, had a minor hit in the mid 1980s with the song “Nicaragua” (see the film clip below).

The harsh reality of trying to live as a musician in Sydney led to the band “dying on the road”, so to speak, and he moved into more conventional employment, eventually scaling the heights of the NSW public service.

He published a book, Labor, prosperity and the nineties : beyond the bonsai economy, with former NSW Labor Treasurer Michael Costa.

Duffy told InDaily he was returning to Adelaide to be with his elderly parents and because he viewed the senior economist’s role as an exciting, but daunting, proposition at a difficult time for the South Australian economy.

“I like public policy and, after a break, I want to get back into it,” he said.

“It’s my home town, and I’m really exictied about it even though it looks like a big challenge – probably because it’s a big challenge.”

The senior economist position in DPC is an existing role. The former incumbent, Stuart Hocking, has moved on to a senior position in the Department of Treasury and Finance.

Eddie Obeid, a former Labor member of the NSW upper house, was subjected to three ICAC inquiries.

Obeid has pleaded not guilty to a charge of misconduct in a resulting Supreme Court trial which began in February. However, the jury was discharged and the trial abandoned after new evidence came to hand. A new trial is expected to begin later this year.

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