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Liberals, in denial over O’Farrell’s error, should learn from this

As NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell heads for the exit, shooting the messenger won’t help the Liberals. Incestuous links with business will continue to inflict damage on the party, especially in a party branch as inept as NSW.

Based on the reaction to Barry O’Farrell’s resignation by unnamed federal Liberals and their media supporters, denial runs deep in the Liberal Party —   about the role of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, about the entrenched problems of the New South Wales branch of the party, of how the incestuous links between business, unions and both sides of politics are a cancer on democracy.

Peter Hartcher’s Fairfax piece shows some federal Liberals in outright denial. Maybe it’s just a stage of grief, but it’s remarkable. ICAC had pulled down O’Farrell like it pulled down former premier Nick Greiner, one claimed. Another called it a “kangaroo court”. It was a day for laboured metaphors: former Liberal staffer Peter Van Onselen invoked both the star chamber and witch trials in one paragraph in a furious screed against ICAC in The Australian. The paper itself editorialised that O’Farrell had been “led into political entrapment” and was a victim of a deliberate plot by ICAC, a body that “traduces reputations” and “leads to political car crashes over minor matters”. You almost feared a torch-wielding mob was going to form at Holt Street and march up the road to burn down the commission.

Strange, but those complaints weren’t being heard when Labor crooks were being exposed by ICAC or when a Who’s Who of former Labor leaders appeared there to explain their response to the intrigues of the corrupt. And entrapment? It wasn’t ICAC that forced Barry O’Farrell to insist that he’d have remembered if he’d received the bottle of wine, just like it wasn’t ICAC that forced Nick Greiner to make his profoundly stupid offer to Terry Metherell. This sort of stuff is verging on conspiracy theory.

Such denial isn’t surprising from politicians and commentators who have been operating on the assumption that ICAC primarily existed to humiliate the Labor Party. But it misses the point that this is yet another instance of the deep problems of the NSW Liberal Party affecting its federal counterpart — and the damage isn’t limited to ruining Tony Abbott’s high-profile Badgerys Creek announcement yesterday. A former O’Farrell minister, Chris Hartcher, will be before ICAC the week after next to face his own investigation. And stood-aside Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos is at the very centre of the Australian Water Holdings scandal as a bizarrely incurious company chairman with a memory like Swiss cheese.

Don’t forget, the NSW branch had lost Tony Abbott the 2010 election through factional disputes and ineptitude in its preselection processes — which were well-flagged before the election. It had lost the 2007 state election after the Right knifed John Brogden. That loss, at least, led to a power-sharing arrangement between Left and Right in 2008, only for intra-factional warfare to break out within the Right that saw threats of “World War 3” ahead of the 2011 election.

Luckily the party managed to hold together to achieve a landslide win under O’Farrell, and Sinodinos was supposed to be the bloke that would keep the peace when he came in as state president after O’Farrell’s victory. Instead, there were complaints that Sinodinos, who also entered the Senate late in 2011, allowed the Left under Michael Photios to wield too much power. The branch also allowed duds like Jaymes Diaz to cruel their hopes of picking up more western Sydney seats in last year’s federal election. And this is the Prime Minister’s own branch, one in which as opposition leader he had to repeatedly intervene to demand that key players keep the factional peace, rarely successfully.

Baird should go further in curbing the interactions between lobbyists, business figures and his ministers …”

Whether likely new premier Mike Baird, and the prospect of a more difficult 2015 NSW election, is enough to stifle another round of factional warfare, remains to be seen. And the party is still looking for a state director less than a year out from the election after Scott Briggs, the Nine Network’s chief lobbyist and a former deputy director of the party, bailed out of the position at the last minute earlier this month.

Baird of course has his own problems with Nick Di Girolamo, whom he appointed to the State Water Corporation in 2012. That’s the problem with the Australian Water Holdings matter: its slimy tentacles extend everywhere, including to Joe Hockey’s fundraising arm, which returned AWH donations, and to former state vice-president, O’Farrell confidante and lobbyist Michael Photios, who continues to be a Left powerbroker within the party.

If federal Liberals and their media cheerleaders think these sorts of links between party officials, donors, former ministers, former staffers, lobbyists and business mates and serving ministers are OK, then they’ll continue to see colleagues, even good, ethical colleagues like O’Farrell, tripped up. Maybe being in the federal sphere, where there are fewer direct opportunities to influence business outcomes compared to state government, has dulled their capacity to see the problems of such deeply incestuous relationships. Or maybe they’re so convinced that business interests and the public interest are indistinguishable that they don’t see the risks of such relationships. This is the crowd who attack Labor’s close links with trade unions but think it’s fine for Sinodinos, a former NAB executive, to try to sneak through Parliament amendments that would gut financial advice consumer protections because the big banks (via an industry association led by Brogden) want it.

O’Farrell made a start in trying to curb those relationships by overhauling the NSW political donation laws. Abbott also did the right thing in banning party officials from being lobbyists. Baird should go further in curbing the interactions between lobbyists, business figures and his ministers, and shedding more light on the interactions that can occur. The voters of NSW will benefit, and so will his government.

They won’t from shooting the messenger, like some federal Liberals appear to want.

17
  • 1
    DiddyWrote
    Posted Thursday, 17 April 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    It’s just a river in Egypt to the Libs.

  • 2
    Ray Sanderson
    Posted Thursday, 17 April 2014 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Scott Briggs, ‘bailed out of the position at the last minute earlier this month.’ It’s ‘baled out’ - as in departing an aircraft in flight (origin - WW2 air force jargon).

  • 3
    Peter Evans
    Posted Thursday, 17 April 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    What folks often don’t get about the contemporary Liberal Party now is that all they are is legislative muscle for a bunch of business interests (sometimes shonky). That’s what they exist to be, and do. They’ve been that way since at least the 1980s and arguable the 1960s.

  • 4
    Peter Evans
    Posted Thursday, 17 April 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Also, Greiner was not destroyed by ICAC. Now, ICAC certainly inflicted political damage on him, but what stuffed Greiner was the hubristic and domineering way he attempted to keep the independents in line that he relied on in the NSW lower house. They had a gutful of him, and the Libs had no choice but to get rid of him for a far better conciliator (Fahey). Greiner’s done nothing since to demonstrate remediation that side of his character, shall we say.

  • 5
    archibald
    Posted Thursday, 17 April 2014 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    @Ray Sanderson
    It’s bailed. Look it up.

  • 6
    Dan Hilvert
    Posted Thursday, 17 April 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    True that the Oz is usually a media apologist for Coalition and not credible as a news agency. So i wasn’t surprised to read your article’s entertaining summary of its editorial. But when i clicked on the link to the Editorial i found the Editorial to be well reasoned, balanced and quite a well balanced synopsis of events (a good read actually).

    Whilst it’s good to call the OZ to account over their blatant political bias and rabid rants, I think you may have picked the wrong article. You might want to re-read and perhaps revise conclusion.

  • 7
    prodigy
    Posted Thursday, 17 April 2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Bernard. The first time I have made the NAB/ Brogden link - now the nonsense makes sense! More evidence of the taxpayers. voters being shafted.

  • 8
    sparky
    Posted Thursday, 17 April 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Is there a diagram available that has all the relationships? This is doing my head in!

  • 9
    MJPC
    Posted Thursday, 17 April 2014 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    Heard Gerard Henderson on ABC this AM (was evidently on lateline last evening) calling ICAC all manner of unfair names and curses.
    Of course, when they were needling the ALP in NSW he was one of their major, one halfwit, cheer squads. What is that saying about revenge is a dish….?
    Then there is the PM commenting about Baird, new to premier, a man of integrity…hold on isn’t this the same Baird who was responsible for putting tricky Nicky G in some management position with Sydney Water?
    Roll on Harcher ICAC hearings, they could be deeper in denial.

  • 10
    Itsarort
    Posted Thursday, 17 April 2014 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    @Dan Hilvert
    Sorry Dan, Keane’s deconstruction is correct. I think you need to read the editorial again…

  • 11
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 18 April 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I guess it comes down to whether you accept the analysis of a Limited News Party PR management and mitigation body (with their one-eyed vigilante trial-by-media mentality) - or that of the likes of Cowdery and Ted Mack?

  • 12
    Sally Goldner
    Posted Friday, 18 April 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    L/NP individuals with a mentality of unaccountability as part of believing they are born to rule? Surely not… #slipsinpuddleofsarcasm

  • 13
    Hunt Ian
    Posted Friday, 18 April 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Barry O’Farrell was one of the better NSW premiers, though this might be to damn with faint praise. Sill people like Gerald Henderson-you only have to see Lateline for a rude, completely baseless rant about ICAC- have got the whole thing wrong. ICAC did not bring down O’Farrell. He shot HIMSELF in the foot and lost the game, which is a pity, as he was shaping up well. You can blame his lack of records but first and foremost, he should blame his failure to list the Grange in the Register of gifts. However this happened - the turmoil of taking up office or plain oversight - it left him with a choice between a politically embarrassing omission or a potentially fatal denial that he had ever had it. He made the wrong choice, that’s all.
    Let us hope that ranting about ICAC does not become a new fad for those politicians who have only just begun to enjoy devices of cover up, like “operation sovereign borders.”

  • 14
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 18 April 2014 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    I reckon what galls Henderson and his ilk is that someone can knock them off their moral Conservative high-horse and take it for a run?
    While ICAC was rending Labor that was a jolly jape - who would have thought they’d have a few “soiled angels” on their Right side? That sort of reality runs against everything they’ve asserted?

  • 15
    Dogs breakfast
    Posted Tuesday, 22 April 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    ” … of how the incestuous links between business, unions and both sides of politics are a cancer on democracy….”

    Exactly. ICAC is the only thing holding back the pollies from outright blatant theft, it seems. Thank god for ICAC, as there are fewer media outlets capable of exposing the dirt, and only ICAC has the power to genuinely rein in the pollies without fear of being sued and legally harassed.

    ” Or maybe they’re so convinced that business interests and the public interest are indistinguishable…”

    This is the achilles heel of the LNP. I would go further and suggest that they long since lost any discrimination between business interests and the public interest.

    The Federal LNP shows the same signs, and may well get caught out in all this yet.

    Personally, I’m loving watching them all go down, even if Barry O’F appeared to otherwise be above board. It’s a big price for him to pay for his stupidity.

    I’m looking forward to Baird squirming in the ICAC hot seat. With any luck, they’ll be calling for ‘next cab off the rank’ for State Premier.

  • 16
    linda
    Posted Tuesday, 22 April 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I think we have all underestimated the triumphalism of the Coalition. I think they are now so confident that the electorate will buy any shonky line as long as its pushed hard enough by their media allies, that they think they can and will get away with anything & everything.
    And they probably will.

  • 17
    chpowell
    Posted Tuesday, 22 April 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Gerard Henderson: a lickspittle, unctuous, brown nosed sycophant to the Right.

    I haven’t laughed so hard in years!

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