A hellbroth in the Hunter
3 May 2011
Former Labor politician Michael ‘Mick’ Costa is not a nice man, but nobody deserves what happened , a few days ago, to his wife and two small children.
At about 8.20am on 14 April, Costa left his Hunter Valley home, located on the Wollombi Road just west of Millfield, to drive to a meeting in Newcastle, about 60 km away. A few minutes later a man dressed in a black tracksuit and black balaclava, armed with a knife, entered the home, confronted Costa’s wife Deborah and tied her to a chair with wire. (Interesting detail, that wire. To this old PI it says ex-soldier.)
The perpetrator threatened Mrs Costa with rape and violence, rifled the house and left with her purse, car keys and, oddly, some bottles of expensive wine.
Luckily, he failed to disable the landline. Around 8.40am Costa’s four-year-old daughter dialled 000 and held the phone for her mother to talk to the police.
According to media reports, Michael Costa was already on his way home when he learned of the break in from police. The cops had acted with alacrity and their media unit issued a news release with the number of Mrs Costa’s blue Honda Civic at 10.15am.
At first, and officially, both Costa and the police were at pains to assert that there was no evidence the event was related to Mick’s former political posts – it might have happened to anybody.
The cops later changed their mind about that, and the discovery of Mrs Costa’s car nine days later has no doubt reinforced the view that the home invasion was, as they say, “targeted”.
On the face of it, the perpetrator took an awful lot of risks. It’s a good working assumption he was watching the Costa home from the wooded hill above and moved in after he saw Mick drive away. But how did he know Mick hadn’t just gone into the village to pick up the papers? It would only have taken him three or four minutes to drive back. That doesn’t leave much time to do the deed and hightail it. At that hour, a lot of people are alert and on the move, and in the bush people notice a lot, because there ain’t a lot to notice.
Mrs Costa’s car was found, in the Corrabare State Forest, only 4 km, as the crow flies, from Chez Costa. It was, however, further by road to get to what the police describe as the “campsite” where it turned up. To get there the perpetrator had to drive back towards Millfield and then south along a dog-leg dirt road, and then via a track back into the state forest. Again, he took a big risk of being seen, and at close range.
We can assume the assailant had left his own car there for the getaway. It’s also possible there was an unseen second perpetrator, who could watch the Wollombi Road in case Mick Costa came back.
In this possum’s opinion, the whole affair looks like a threat to Costa via his family, delivered by a hired thug, but thinly disguised as a random break-in. “We know where your wife and kids live, Mick”, somebody is saying. But if that’s the case, what they want Mick to do, or not do, or what they might be punishing him for, is another question.
Michael Costa has made many enemies. His CV reads like a potted history of the political degeneration and decline of the Labor Party. The former police minister, transport minister and treasurer of NSW came into politics as a teenager, through the hard-line orthodox Trotskyist party then known as the Socialist Labour League. He deserted the SLL for the fluffier Socialist Workers Party, but he didn’t stay there long either. Soon he was off to the Labor Left faction who he deserted, in turn, for the Right. Along the way he became perhaps Australia’s most hysterical convert to Thatcherite market fundamentalism.
In the result, Costa resigned from parliament after his campaign to privatise the state’s electricity industry collapsed. In defeat, the market fundamentalist right closed ranks around their champion. Retiring to the Hunter Valley, he became a Murdoch columnist and was given a position as an associate professor at the University of Newcastle, researching “competition theory”. In February this year, in a lurid address to the NSW Minerals Council he claimed that at least twice during his years with the late, unlamented, Labor government, there were serious attempts to close down coal mining in the state. If only. Big Coal is strip mining the Hunter Valley on an ghastly, unprecedented scale and a lot of people loath that.
In fact there’s a miasma of fear and loathing everywhere in the Hunter these days and mostly it involves a scramble for power and profit in real estate, development, mining, and even professional sport.
While Labor remained in office, former cabinet ministers could set up as fixers and facilitators, and many did. What they could sell was their insider’s network of political connections – euphemistically described as “access to government” – but with Labor’s electoral wipeout the doors have slammed shut. A lot of folk from the big end of town bet the farm on the “access” they were promised. If I were a cop looking for motive, I’d be taking a long hard look at that angle.