Time runs out for disgraced prisons minister Rex Jackson

Death has claimed Rex ''Buckets'' Jackson so his shabby story has to be told one last time. He was the minister for corrective services who ended up serving three years behind bars for taking bribes. At least it was a learning experience. "The NSW prison system is a disgrace," he raged after his release. "There are people in charge who are animals."Many thought the same of Jackson in his long, slow climb from Illawarra kid, pug boxer, Labor member for Bulli and finally minister in the government of Neville Wran. He had neither brains nor political convictions. Somewhere in there was a soft heart, but his colleagues knew him as the toughest bully in Parliament - and a hopeless gambler.Six months after becoming minister in charge of NSW jails, Jackson set up a scheme for the early release of prisoners. He alone picked the candidates. As they began streaming out of the state's prisons, federal police wiretapping underworld figure Fayez (Frank) Hakim heard a series of conversations with Jackson selling the release of three marijuana growers from Broken Hill jail on April 14, 1983.The wiretaps were legitimate; the police watched intermediaries deliver fat envelopes to Jackson's office; they recorded the minister afterwards saying "we could do plenty between now and August"; and this material was swiftly laid before the authorities. But it proved astonishingly difficult to get the Wran government to act.Jackson was absolutely broke. His fibro house in Helensburgh was mortgaged to the hilt. He was bouncing cheques on his bookmakers. It would later emerge he invested much of the proceeds of this crime on a horse called Trench Digger in the last race at Rosehill. It lost.After five months of stonewalling, Jackson was compelled to resign after highly detailed questions were put to him by Marian Wilkinson of The National Times. The questions were based on the transcripts of the wiretaps, transcripts which had been available to the NSW government all those months.Jackson went to prison in September 1987 for conspiring to accept bribes but his conduct of the early release scheme was never investigated. This was despite protests from judges and police about many of the 1000 or so men and women Jackson had set free. Labor managed to corral the corruption issue to this one case of the marijuana harvesters of Broken Hill.The clocks Jackson made in Berrima prison were bought by tourists. On his release in late 1990, he ran a hot dog van on Stanwell Tops. His wife had died. There were no kids. He was, as always, broke. "I'm leading a decent, clean life," he told nosey journalists. "I see no reason to have my privacy invaded."The Jackson name never went unmentioned in reports about the corruption and the collapse of Labor in the Illawarra. Lately, he had just been hanging about Wollongong, an old man with not much to do. He died on New Year's Eve. His name survives on the Rex Jackson Park at Helensburgh.

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