State politics may prove a boon for Julia Gillard — look at Queensland’s troubled Coalition crew. But how much will the ghost of NSW Labor haunt Gillard, as ICAC continues?
“Gillard a hit at community cabinet” was the AAP headline from last night’s forum in northern Brisbane where the Prime Minister was “warmly applauded” as she and her ministers dished it out to Campbell Newman’s government.
Quite a change from July, when the PM was heckled at a community cabinet in federal Labor MP Shayne Neumann’s seat of Blair.
One of the underappreciated factors in Paul Keating’s win in 1993 was that he had the new Kennett government to campaign against in Victoria and, to a lesser extent, John Fahey’s wounded post-Greiner government in NSW. Kennett and Keating later formed an uneasy kind of mutual appreciation society for crazy-brave reformists (and both loathed John Howard) but Kennett’s reforms, especially on industrial relations, made for a potent weapon for Labor in Canberra.
Now Newman is doing something similar for Julia Gillard, albeit with far less competence than Kennett displayed. Newman’s government appears to have gone straight to the constant scandal stage that usually only happens after a decade in power. As the NSW ALP so vividly demonstrated.
The NSW ALP was scandal-plagued while it was still in office, but only since its welcome demise has the full extent of its systemic corruption become apparent, to such an extent that it must now rival the Bjelke-Petersen era as the most corrupt of modern times. Moreover, the corruption wasn’t accidental; it wasn’t a couple of rotten apples, it was endemic and the product of the factional system within the party. And everyone knew about the malign influence of Eddie Obeid, which is why Bob Carr was desperate to drive him out of his ministry in 2003.
The party, in its last stages after Carr left, was a suppurating tumour on Australian public life. It ran the NSW economy, a third of the national economy, into the ground. It infected the rest of the ALP via two of the most ineptly cynical apparatchiks it had ever produced, Karl Bitar and Mark Arbib, who exported the NSW practice of knifing leaders, using internal party research against them and substituting releasing media statements for governing. It ripped off NSW taxpayers by blocking the privatisation of NSW electricity assets. And, we now discover, it was profoundly corrupt.
It took a massive election loss to start the process of excising this tumour, but John Robertson, a symbol of all that was wrong with the ALP in government, is, unbelievably, the parliamentary leader in opposition.
The question is, how much damage will the rotten NSW ALP inflict on federal Labor, even from beyond the grave? Between now and the election, NSW voters will be regularly reminded of just how corrupt Labor was in government. If the Commonwealth-state dynamic does, in contrast to 2010, play out in Labor’s favour at the next election, in NSW it must surely be offset by the drip-drip-drip of revelations about how profoundly, endemically corrupt a government could be.