So long, good riddance: the dubious legacy of NSW ministers
by former Labor adviser and freelance journalist Candace Sutton|
Mar 14, 2011 12:50PM |EMAIL|PRINT
“So long, farewell, auf weidersehen, goodnight. Adieu, adieu. To you and you and you…”
When the moon spins into its last quarter on March 26, members of the NSW Cabinet will say goodbye to taxpayers — and to the pretty sight of their ministerial offices and parliamentary bonuses we fund.
But they need not worry that we shall forget them. Their legacy will be enshrined in their deeds, and of those who went before them, only to get their knickers in a knot, fingers in the till, warm towel in the sauna at Ken’s Karate Klub…
How shall we remember them? Let us count the ways.
Kristina Keneally, Premier. Distinguishing features: Star Fleet hair, churchgoing goody two shoes wrapped in high wattage sex appeal. Believes in Christian social equity; doesn’t believe in power bill equity. Wants to be remembered for improving literacy and numeracy. Did so by reviving the word “prorogue” and forcing everyone to do their sums on the ever diminishing return from the electricity sell-off. Will not be forgotten for signing her family up at the 11th hour for the cheap solar energy rebate deal.
What the people would have preferred: the majority of voters could have forgiven Keneally for taking an ecstasy tablet, having an affair, using an adult website and dancing in her underpants (as long as they got to see the footage), if she only she had got on with effectively running the state.
Most outrageous comment: “I would hope that the Commonwealth and the prime minister isn’t seriously suggesting that I have to make some sort of Sophie’s Choice type decision here, some sort of Sophie’s Choice the movie type decision here, between workers’ safety and $140 million.” During a stoush with Julia Gillard, the PM warned the premier if NSW didn’t sign up to uniform national workplace laws then the state might have to forgo millions in federal grants. Keneally described the ultimatum as “Sophie’s choice”, as if the premier wrangling with the dilemma in the back seat of her chauffeur-driven state car compared with a Jewish mother cattle-training it to Auschwitz for the Nazis to make her choose between her son and daughter as to who goes to the gas chamber.
Favourite pretence: persisting with the laughable notion that any particular calamitous decision was made by one of her ministers, without her knowledge or concurrence.
Future prospects: After her government is booted into touch on March 26, Keneally can take the “opportunity for a new beginning and for a time for healing” she promised NSW voters when she took over the premiership. Predicted to stick around only long enough to taunt Barry O’Farrell on the floor of Parliament, then take her government pension and dust herself off for her next chapter in Labor Party history.
Carmel Tebbutt, Deputy Premier, Minister for Health. Held the ministries for Juvenile Justice, Community Services, Ageing, Disability and Home Care, Climate Change and Environment, Education and Training and now Health. That’s right: schools, hospitals, aged care and troubled youth. Tebbutt will go down in history as having breezed through each portfolio, using them as stepping stones, without leaving a mark on her way to the top.
If she doesn’t become the first female deputy premier to lose her seat, she can be remembered for making a controversial free drugs guide available to children: Drug Safety: Guide to a Better Night. The guide attracted criticism from drug counsellors when it was released in early 2010.Tebbutt said the government had a responsibility to look after people who took drugs. Youth workers said drug tips on “how to do it properly” were tantamount to “throwing our hands in the air” and saying drug use is okay. Privately, health bureaucrats were relieved no-one remembered Users News, the quarterly department-funded magazine “packed with articles on topics of interest to drug users … amusing drawings and even the odd comic strip”. (See the latest edition for stories like A China White Christmas, about scoring heroin at Kings Cross on Christmas Day.)
Silliest comment: On November 27, 2006 Tebbutt went live on radio complaining about the lack of historical knowledge from today’s schoolchildren. When the announcer asked her what was the significance of Australia Day, she said: “Well, we celebrate Australia Day because that’s the day that we became a nation. When the states joined together, the federation of Australia, and it’s an important day to understand that history.”
John Hatzistergos, Attorney General. Known as The Great Legislator, or Dracula, or the walking corpse, Hatzistergos is instantly recognisable for his cadaverous complexion, his pyjama check shirts and his lack of natural ability as a television performer.
Minister for Justice twice during his parliamentary career and a firm believer in the old Bob Carr maxim of tough-on-crime wins the votes, “Hatz”leaves the statutes littered with new legislation: tightened bail laws, continuing detention orders, extended supervision orders. He has probably drafted more legislation than any predecessor in the job. His most convoluted and unsuccessful charter was an attempt to block Peter Bujdoso, a convicted paedophile who successfully sued the government after being bashed in jail, from keeping his $175,000 sum. Hatz’s idea, to use the Civil Liberties’ Act to freeze Bujdoso’s payout and funnel it to the victim of his crime, was tossed out of court by the judges.
Hatz, who as a lawyer never attained silk, has always yearned for recognition. A one-time tilter for the job as premier, he would be happy to be appointed a judge.
Eric Roozendaal, Treasurer. Every bill we pay, rising higher each day, we’ll remember him. What else to remember Eric the eel for but his slipperiness over the electricity sell-off? The former Labor Party campaign director and chief fund-raiser was nominated by his premier to explain the deal brokered to privatise electricity assets and the ensuing furore over proroguing parliament and impacting on the upper house inquiry into the deal, but the public didn’t buy it and fingered them both as to blame. Despite furious union demands to demote Roozendaal to an unwinnable position on the party’s Legislative Council ticket, Keneally backed him at number one
And lest we forget: in 2010, Roozendaal was accused of wasting taxpayers’ money after he took two trips to New York at a cost of around $100,000 and claimed the trips were designed to reinforce the state’s AAA credit rating by meeting with Moddy’s and Standard & Poors, both of whom have executives in Australia.
Tony Kelly, Minister for Planning, Infrastructure and Lands. The quiet henchman of NSW Labor, Kelly will be remembered as the biggest swiftie puller in the latter part of this administration. By kissing the behinds of two of the state’s most powerful lobby groups — property developers and the liquor industry — his legacy is loosened controls over alcohol-fuelled violence and over Barangaroo, the harbourside development earmarked as Australia’s premier financial district of the future.
As Australians were decking the halls with boughs of holly last December, Kelly was bowing to the fierce lobbying of the Australian Hotels Association, bar czar Justin Hemmes and others by revoking City of Sydney council powers to monitor and limit the operations of licensed venues with a record of attacks on patrons, glassings, fights on streets, and disturbance to neighbourhoods with police and paramedics called to the scene.
If Barangaroo, which is going to be built on the last, large piece of publicly available harbourside land in Sydney, ends up as a financially unviable, ugly, sunless monstrosity and unfrequented eyesore, remember Tony. If the cyanide, lead and dozens of other contaminants in Barangaroo’s ground waters leach into Sydney harbour and the government is not responsible, remember Tony.
At the behest of his premier, Kelly pushed through last-minute approvals for big, bulky buildings on the site and excised (the poisonous) parts of Barangaroo from environmental planning laws.
John Robertson, Minister for Transport. The man who would be the next NSW Labor leader will be spitting chips he drew last on the polling ticket for Blacktown after his lightning switch from the upper house to inherit the seat of long-serving Paul Gibson, especially now Gibson’s handsome 22.4% margin is under threat from a larger than predicted Coalition tsunami.
Robertson’s achievements? Virtually nothing. He has been too busy on a breathtaking ride to power and maintaining an almost superhuman ability to fly under the radar and deflect blame. His first portfolio as Corrective Services Minister put the former union boss, who had crushed Morris Iemma’s attempt at privatising electricity, in the tricky position of having to pretend he was all for his government’s plans of privatising prisons. Since then he hasn’t looked back, breezing through energy, industrial relations and commerce, and on to transport, in which he has managed to avoid the controversy usually attendant to the job.
Frank Sartor, Minister for Climate Change and the Environment. Oh Frank, you came so close. The man with the “Napoleon complex” (short of stature, high of ambition) was narrowly beaten by Keneally for the premiership after Nathan Rees was rolled. But having stepped over the dead body and up to the plate, Sartor must be relieved he lost, or constantly telling people how he would have done a much better job.
But it is Sartor’s stint as planning minister, during which he was described as “the state’s most hated man”, which leaves his real legacy for the suburbs and towns of the state: overdevelopment. New planning laws he introduced in 2008 mean fewer council controls apply to residential development; single storey buildings are easily demolished and replaced with double storey, without community consultation.
Sartor has denied his planning decisions had been influenced by developer donations, but in 2009 had to weather a Land and Environment Court judgement which described a decision he made to allow development at Catherine Hill Bay on the NSW Central Coast by a political donor, Rose Group, in exchange for conservation land as having been influenced by a “land bribe”.
Linda Burney, Minister for Community Services. It is not the fault of Linda Burney that she is the last in 16 years to clasp the poisoned chalice of overseeing the Department of Community Services, which has instigated a raft of changes in managing children at risk with little or no change in result. DoCS is a dog of a problem and its legacy is one big mess.
No administration can stop children being abused in their homes, or at least Labor failed to. Exhausted, burnt out and overworked, DoCS caseworkers in their present numbers cannot cater for the numbers of reported abuse cases throughout the state. To remove all children at risk from their homes the state would have to build hundreds of homes for juveniles. Labor regrets it introduced the call line, which attracts (spurious and genuine) reports of child abuse in numbers the current DoCS workforce cannot possibly respond to.
Michael Daley, Minister for Police, and Minister for Finance. Legacy: the cupboard is bare, so say senior cops. Policing budgets have been so pared back that if the incoming Coalition tries to make further reductions it will be cutting into the budget for police wages. Made progress with the transport industry in that portfolio but was quickly shuffled out before anything could be bedded down.
Paul Lynch, Minister for Industrial Relations, Commerce, Energy. Caught up in the furore over the solar power funding scheme and rising household power bills, Lynch contributed to the government’s approach of obfuscate and flick pass when in deepest doodoo. Take this: “Over the last 10 years, $10 billion has been spent on electricity infrastructure. To say this is under-investment strains the meaning of the plain words of the English language.” (This is a meaningless overview statement.)
Lynch said the proportion of consumers’ bills that related to network charges was effectively set by the Australian Energy Regulator. A classic flick pass: it’s not our fault.
Phil Costa, Minister for Water, Corrective Services. The guitar-playing former school teacher from a rural electorate near Goulburn has left many things undone in his own patch, which the good folk of Wollondilly have had cause to complain. (A power station in a residential area; 10 more years to wait for a region to be sewered.) But it is the bigger projects that Costa has handled, with God-like powers to part water and divert rivers, which will leave his mark.
Something of a country ken whose first question when arriving (at farm, water catchment, or prison) is “how big’s the paddock?”, Costa has wrestled with massive, controversial high-budget projects, such as the $35 million recycled water scheme, the Murray Darling Basin Agreement and the Tillegra Dam. He wanted to proceed with the $477 million Tillegra, labelled a dud by a NSW Office of Water official who recommended deferring construction for another 30 years because dams were full following the floods and the estimated future water needs had been overestimated — plus the parlous state of the NSW budget
But it was the auctioning of water licenses for one of the largest underground reservoirs in the world that will be his legacy. Spearheading his government’s decision to auction licenses for the Great Artesian Basin, Costa described the scheme as “sustainable” and country folk called it “insane”. Environmental Science professor Richard Kingsford it as “the first toe in the water for trading in the Great Artesian Basin”, the most complex, fragile and precious resource in Australia.
Never mind, Costa did not proceed without public consultation. He letter-boxed vast tracts of north-west NSW with his draft plan, mailing literature to long dead people and no longer existent post offices.
Virginia Judge, Minister for Fair Trading, Minister for the Arts. Judge cannot be recognised much for her deeds, other than continuing on with the fine Labor tradition of looking after our mates.
Judge fell silent when quizzed about certain invitations to ministerial meetings extended to a local playwright and journalist with whom Judge had a close personal relationship. Kosta Nika appeared to have benefited from a succession of “career breaks” since he and Judge reportedly became close. Through his friendship with judge, Nikas has gained introductions to powerful government officials in the arts world and invitations to glittering open nights. While Judge was coy when asked questions in parliament about her relationship, Nikas did not hold back when he wrote a story about the speech to parliament Judge delivered about the quest to return to his homeland the fabled Elgin Marbles.
”NSW Parliament has not always been known for great oratory and well-crafted rhetoric,” Nikas wrote, ”but that all changed last week, when Minister for the Arts, Ms Virginia Judge, during a private member’s speech made a passionate plea, calling for the British Museum to return the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece.”
Frank Terenzini. Housing, Small Business, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Veterans’ Affairs. Terenzini lies on the very bottom rung of the NSW government’s list of Cabinet members “in order of superiority”, and no wonder. The former solicitor and chair of the all-party parliamentary committee for the Independent Commission Against Corruption apparently incurred the wrath of some when he sought to uphold the powers of the Commission to fight the culture of bribes, backhanders, favours, nepotism and promotions which permeate NSW.
Withstanding pressure by a former ICAC inspector to change the definition of corrupt conduct — to make it a two-tier system under which public servants received a different benchmark for corrupt conduct than members of the public — Terenzini said no: the definition of “corrupt conduct” should not remove the requirement of a disciplinary offence, it should not be placed into tiers, and it should not be narrowed in the hope that it will reduce the number of complaints. Much gnashing of teeth ensued, along with the pain and embarrassment of NSW Cabinet members being referred to the corruption body.
Joe Tripodi, former Minister for Finance, Infrastructure, Regulatory Reform, Ports and Waterways. And so that brings to a close the ghosts of premiers and ministers past, too numerous to list, but whose classic Labor traits and enduring legacy can be summed up by one man, Joe Tripodi. It is not so much the scandals which Tripodi gave us — from the eye watering notion of him in a parliamentary sex romp, through the Orange Grove affair, the Wollongong development investigation, the Baulderstone ports contract, etc. — it’s the way he has shrugged them off, beaten them and gone on to greater things.
Surely he is a god among the princes of Labor, a tireless worker wh.o did his utmost to make the numbers count, the epitome of party political efficiency in microcosm — closed doors, secret ballots, sharpened knives, the groan of et tu Brute, a moral and ethical vacuum prepared to do anything to obtain and abuse power — to paraphrase website comment following Tripodi’s resignation last November.
His period in the Parliament has been marked by a venality of purpose, brutality and a pursuit of power without evident purpose except personal enrichment. Or to quote “Pete” of Leeton, in what could be an ode to the entire Labor Party:
“Farewell you pinguid creature. For over a decade your poisonous omnipresence and puppet disciples have washed this state in mediocrity. No doubt some inbred toady from under your shadow will slither out from under a dark corner to fill your place. Sadly for this individual it looks like it will be a long time before they get a chance to botch things as much as you did.”
*Candace Sutton worked for six years as a NSW government media adviser, and more recently spent three months in the office of lord mayor Clover Moore