We challenge any politician to come up with a better compilation of feisty letters than this offering from NSW Treasurer Michael Egan.

Our very good friend Michael Egan, Treasurer of our biggest state, was kind enough yesterday to send through the following e-mail – along with a collection of his greatest letters to newspapers – after we mentioned his little contretemps with the Sydney Morning Herald’s Robert Wainwright in the Sealed Section yesterday:

“Dear Crikey,

“Let me save you and your readers a lot of trouble.

“Here’s a selection (thirteen) of my many letters to newspapers.

“As you can see, there is a common theme: my endless fight against media inaccuracy, incompetence, laziness, malice, sloppiness, stupidity and woollyheadedness.

“Robert Wainwright has copped it in recent days for his sins of omission.

“Sadly, I’m sure the Egan dossier of letters will fatten considerably, because I intend to be Treasurer until 2016.

“Michael Egan

“Treasurer of New South Wales”

“PS: I am much indebted to my spinmeister for his occasional but suitably paranoid checks on the Crikey site. Do ya best!”

The sense of humour has disarmed Crikey somewhat. What a great man for saving us all that research, especially now that News Ltd have increased the cost of story retrievals from their archive from $1 to $1.20 a pop.

But we can’t go to the letters quite yet – as they weren’t the only entertainment he had prepared for us. He also put on a wonderful show in Question Time after the hapless Charlie Lynn tried to ask him about the Wainwright matter that had us rolling in the aisles. The transcript rolled off the fax a little after 11pm on Thursday night and I’m sure he’d want us to share it with our sole subscriber:

HANSARD

TREASURER TAPE RECORDING OF MEDIA INTERVIEWS

The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN: Is it normal practice for the Treasurer to tape conversations with journalists, as he stated in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald on 14 June? Does the Treasurer inform journalists that the conversations are being taped or does he just do it?

The Hon MICHEAL EGAN: I than the Hon Charlie Lynn for the question. I have a print out from crikey.com.au today. I was wondering how I could get it onto the record during question time. I was going to get someone to ask me a Dorothy Dixer, but guess what happened? Charlie Lynn did it. Let me clear up one thing. Last Thursday night when I rang the office of journalist Robert Wainwright, fortuitously, my very experienced media secretary put the tape recorder on my desk to tape my end of the conversation. I am entitled to do that. Indeed, I have learned over the years that whenever you do a press conference or interviews you should, if you are smart, have a tape recorder there to record what you say. For example, I remember once doing an interview with the 7.30 Report in my office. When I turned on the 7.30 Report that night to watch the interview it showed me saying what I said, sure enough, but it has me saying it to a completely different question! As I have said publicly, when I spoke to Mr Wainwright my press secretary put the tape recorder on my desk so we could tape what I said. There is nothing unethical about that. There is certainly nothing illegal about that. All be warned: If I have any reason to suspect that you will verbal me that is exactly what I will do. Let me inform the House what crikey.com.au said today about this issue:

“New South Wales Treasurer Michael Egan is on of the most feisty political letter writers in Australia. If you dare criticise his budget he will be all over you like a rash.”

Absolutely true. It goes on to say:

“The last few days have been no exception with the Sydney Morning Herald’s Robert Wainwright copping an awful bollocking.”

It goes on to say:

“A Macquarie Street insider has faxed Crikey an extraordinary fleer that Egan has distributed to MPs pouring water all over Wainwright’s stories.”

It goes on to suggest: “Now remember folks, send in those great Egan letters as they will make for a great set on the site.”

I am compiling what I can put together. Most of those letters are to the Fairfax press, which my father, by the way, hated. By the time I was 11, when he died, I knew exactly where I stood in relation to the Fairfax press and in particular the Sydney Morning Herald. It has not got any better over the last 43 years, I can assure you. So I am compiling all those letters. What I do fear is that some of my most feisty letters were not sent to the media, or perhaps copies were not even kept by me or by my staff. So if anyone has a copy of the –

The Hon. Michael Costa: I’ve got a copy.

The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN: No, not yours. Get that and tear it up. No, wait, we will photocopy that for crikey.com.au. You have it framed in your office.

The Hon. Michael Costa: I love your letters.

The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN: If anybody else has one I would like a copy, because I have not dept them all, and I will supply them to crikey.com.au as soon as I can.

ends

Thanks for the show Michael. We love it. We can’t get enough.

Ploughing through Budgets is boring work – and we think it’s very selfless of you to put on a performance while we plod away looking at just how dodgy your spin and your figures really are. Yes, folks, without further ado, heeeeeeeere it is – the Michael Egan Song and Dance Spectacular:

WHAT A LOAD OF CODSWALLOP

12 September 2000

Mr Tony Harris

Australian Financial Review

FAX: 9282 3137

Dear Tony

I’ve just read your article “Games silence not golden”.

What a lot of self-serving codswallop!

The truth is I wasn’t trying to shame the Herald from doing anything.

I was asked a question by a Telegraph journalist and then subsequently by Fred Nile.

I gave my honest, longstanding opinion about the Herald and the Fairfax press, and my honest opinion about an appalling creation of fake news.

I feel sympathy for the photographer involved. He was simply the victim of the Herald/Fairfax culture, an evil culture that long ago abandoned attempts at objectivity, accuracy and quality control.

Cynicism and negativity are not just the dominant ethos of the Fairfax stable. I am more and more certain that they are also part of a deliberate commercial strategy to carve out a niche in the readership market. I’m sure however, it will fail, as I strongly suspect that Fairfax is unable to understand or interpret its own market research.

I used to loathe the Fairfax media because it was always ultra conservative and anti-Labor. In more recent years, my reaction has been motivated more by its appalling quality (with some notable exceptions) and amoral standards.

Whenever I hear of some bright-eyed, idealistic young journalist going to work at Fairfax, the injunction I heard often from the Christian Brothers comes to mind: “Always avoid the occasion of sin”.

I could list example after example of the sins of Fairfax, but a recent anti-Semitic piece in your paper will suffice. I always like to give the benefit of the doubt and therefore assume that anti-Semitism was not the intent of the journalist, or anyone else for that matter. But surely there should be some greater quality control and awareness in a major national newspaper.

I am nevertheless, looking forward to my day as a Fairfax guest at the Olympics – “sailing close to the wind” as the Herald reported my acceptance of their invitation.

I also believe in the power of redemption, and hope for mine as well as Fairfax’s.

Yours sincerely

Michael Egan

TONY HARRIS IS NO DEMOCRAT

2 May 2001

The Editor

Australian Financial Review

FAX: 9282 3137

Dear Editor

I suspect that Tony Harris is a Democrat, but he is certainly no democrat.

His article (Act no guide for Costello, AFR 1 May) highlights the central tenet of Harris’ thinking in both his previous public role as New South Wales Auditor-General and in his present role as a Fairfax cadet journalist.

Mr Harris believes there are “right decisions” and “wrong decisions”. Right decisions are generally made by unelected officials or judges according to a prescribed formula. Wrong decisions are generally made by politicians, especially those who are members of an executive government appointed under the principles of Westminster democracy, and particularly when it is suspected that a decision is influenced by a politician’s sense of the popular will.

Whatever one might think about Peter Costello’s decision on the Woodside matter, Costello and his Government will be answerable to the electorate for it.

Mr Harris would rather have a system where elected decision makers, or preferably unelected decision makers, were “obliged to make the right decision”.

The fact that he seems to believe there is always a “right decision” might qualify him to become Pope, but it also shows that he has no appreciation that in a democratic polity people are entitled to insist on what Mr Harris might consider a wrong decision.

It has always seemed to me that Mr Harris loathes the very concept of an elected executive government able to exercise any judgement or discretion. He much prefers a country to be run by anarchistic legislatures (ie, those in which no party or grouping has a majority) and unelected technocracies.

He should never have accepted the position of New South Wales Auditor-General without having first read and understood The English Constitution by Walter Bagehot.

Yours sincerely

Michael Egan

DID YOU READ MY BUDGET SPEECH?

30 May 2001

The Editor

The Daily Telegraph

Holt Street

SURRY HILLS NSW 2010

Dear Sir

Regarding your editorial comment today entitled ‘An ideal opportunity squandered’, I really have to ask the question: did your writer actually read my Budget speech, delivered yesterday?

Your newspaper’s assertion that “there was no relief for business” has been comprehensively contradicted by leading business groups.

The Business Council of Australia welcomed “the significant investment in infrastructure and people, the early phased removal of the debits tax and the abolition of the $100 million a year levy on electricity suppliers.”

The Australian Industry Group said: “This is a sound strategy for building industry confidence and generating economic growth over the coming twelve months.”

It also commended the Government for “finding scope to support industry through tax reductions, particularly the abolition of Bank Debits Tax, stamp duty threshold changes and suspension of the Electricity Distributors Levy.”

The Real Estate Institute welcomed the stamp duty relief and said the debits tax abolition would reduce “the overall tax burden from the already overburdened small business sector.”

The State Chamber of Commerce said that the schools maintenance and construction program “should stimulate work for small and medium sized businesses.”

The Credit Union Services Corporation said “credit unions applaud removal of debits tax” and called on other States to “follow NSW’s lead.”

The managing director of the Commonwealth Bank described the Budget as “further good news” for its NSW customers, saying the abolition of debits tax would save them around $60 million a year.

I ask again: just where was your leader writer yesterday?

Yours sincerely

Michael Egan

IINACCURATE AND INCOMPETENT

19 January 2001

The Editor

Australian Financial Review

FAX: 9282 3137

Dear Editor

I am always dubious about the value of surveys of business confidence or expectations.

Over the last decade Australia has experienced remarkable economic growth, completely at odds with the mainly pessimistic expectations revealed by such surveys over that period.

Nevertheless, if the media is to place any significance on them, it is important that they be accurately and competently reported.

Lisa Allen’s report “Olympics can’t save business from hitting a four year low” (Fin Review 19 January) was neither accurate nor competent.

The St George Bank/State Chamber of Commerce December Quarter Survey of Business Expectations did not report a 34 per cent drop in business activity in the December quarter.

It reported instead that 66 per cent of the 366 businesses it surveyed expected either no change or an improvement in business activity, compared to 34 per cent who expected a decline.

I would like Ms Allen to explain how this translates into her ludicrous claim that business activity has fallen 34 per cent.

Just for interest, Ms Allen might like to know that the Australian Bureau of Statistics latest available figures for private sector capital investment (Sept Qtr 2000) in N.S.W. were an all-time high of $4,166 million, 5.3 per cent higher than the June quarter and 19.2 per cent higher than the previous September quarter.

Yours sincerely

Michael Egan

INACCURATE AND MISLEADING

27 August, 2001

The Editor

The Australian Financial Review.

Dear Editor,

I write in response to the misleading and inaccurate article by Lisa Allen on 27 August, regarding the NSW biotechnology industry.

Firstly, there was no analysis of what exactly constitutes the funds supposedly pledged by Victoria and Queensland and whether those States’ definition of ‘biotechnology’ equates to that used by New South Wales.

Secondly, your writer reported that the Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu biotech index shows just 13 biotech companies in NSW. Ms Allen omitted the important fact that the index covers listed companies only.

In fact, in the report by Dr Mark Bradley from which Ms Allen quotes so selectively, the number of biotech companies in NSW was stated as 44 out of a national total of 101.

Thirdly, Ms Allen reports that “NSW was represented by six individuals” at a biotech conference in San Diego in June.

Wrong. I am advised that 56 (that’s fifty six) individuals from NSW biotechnology companies, research institutions, financial and legal organisations attended Bio2001.

Fourthly, Ms Allen reports that “the NSW Government says” that this State is home to 40 per cent of Australia’s biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device companies.

Wrong. It was the Commonwealth Government, in its Australian Biotechnology Annual Report 2001, which reported that NSW has 40 per cent of biotech and related companies. Ms Allen knew this. My staff had informed her, in writing, of the report and its findings.

I repeat, this article was misleading and distorted.

Yours sincerely

Michael Egan

MY ABILITY TO HATE

1 June 2001

The Editor

The Australian Financial Review

FAX: 9282 3137

Dear Editor

In an otherwise flattering article (Hope grows from hate in the garden of Egan, AFR 1 June), Lisa Allen says that before my Budget press conference I “reminded journalists that what drives me in politics is (my) ability to hate.”

What I actually said was – “I am one of those people who always has a hate of the moment. It sustains me, it keeps the adrenalin flowing. And at the moment I actually have two.” I then went on to criticise two journalists (one of whom is now back in my good books) for, in my opinion, stupid and inaccurate things they had written.

I don’t think this is quite the same thing as saying that I am driven by hate. At least I hope not.

Yours sincerely

Michael Egan

THE SINS OF OMISSION

29 May 2001

The Letters Editor

Sydney Morning Herald

Fax: 9282 3492

Dear Editor,

There are sins of commission and sins of omission.

With today’s front page story about NSW job growth, the Herald is guilty of a serious sin of omission: counting only the full time jobs that have been created in NSW since March 1999, and omitting entirely the 797,000 people in part-time work.

Once the part-time jobs are counted as well, the total working population in NSW last month was 3.07 million, an increase of 161,000 on March 1999.

The Government is on track to achieve its target of 200,000 new jobs by March 2003.

Perhaps the thousands of Herald readers in part-time employment would be surprised to know that they have been relegated to the status of non-person.

Yours sincerely

Michael Egan

ADELE HORIN’S DRIVEL

10 December 2001

The Editor

Sydney Morning Herald

FAX: 9282 3492

Dear Sir

Adele Horin (The New Power to Choose, SMH 8 December) is needlessly worrying herself.

When, from January next, households are given the choice to choose their electricity retailer, they’ll also be given another choice – the right not to choose.

Those who choose not to choose – probably about 95 per cent of customers – will need to do nothing.

Their choice will be a passive one. They will simply continue to purchase from their existing supplier under a tariff regulated, as it is now, by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal.

All Adele will need to worry about is what sort of drivel she’ll write about in her next column.

Michael Egan

BREATHTAKINGLY WRONG

22 January, 2002

The Editor

The Bulletin

Fax: 9267 4359

Dear Sir,

In your magazine today, writer Tony Wright declares that ‘South Australia has the bulk of Australia’s biotech companies’.

He offers no evidence to support this. That’s because there is none. His assertion is breathtakingly wrong.

The truth is that in biotechnology, New South Wales is way ahead of the pack.

The Federal Government Biotechnology Report 2001, prepared by Ernst and Young, reports that NSW is the base for 40 per cent of all biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in Australia.

Just eight per cent are based in South Australia, way behind Victoria (32pc) and Queensland (11pc).

The same report finds that NSW has 30 per cent of ‘core biotechnology’ companies (excluding medical device and pharmaceutical companies). South Australia has 8 per cent.

New South Wales is also the focus of investment by multinational pharmaceutical companies in Australia, with 80 per cent of them based in Sydney and 70 per cent setting up their regional headquarters in Sydney.

While I have to admire your gritty determination to run something upbeat about South Australia, the reality is: New South Wales ‘has the bulk of Australia’s biotech companies’.

Yours sincerely

Michael Egan

MUM WOULD BE PROUD

4 February 2002

The Editor

The Bulletin

FAX: 9267 4359

Dear Editor

Gee whiz, I am so clever!

According to Ivor Ries, single-handedly I’ve rigged the national electricity market, starved Victoria and South Australia of much needed power, driven wholesale power prices $20 per megawatt hour dearer and am about to send Victorian power retailers broke.

If Mr Ries were right, I’m sure my mum would be very impressed. But alas, he’s wrong.

To start with, I have never “forced”, directly or indirectly, any of the New South Wales generators to remove capacity from the national grid.

The decision of individual generators, whether owned by NSW taxpayers or private shareholders, to bid into the market at any given price is a commercial decision for each generator.

Indeed, far from trying to restrict capacity in the national grid, New South Wales is the only jurisdiction in Australia to have consistently sought to expand it.

For example, we have supported every single proposal for augmented or new interconnectors.

If these interconnectors had been approved and installed in a timely fashion, Victoria and especially South Australia would have avoided their current problems of limited supply and high prices.

Mr Ries also attacks the New South Wales Government’s decisions to establish ETEF and to examine the contracting out of electricity trading. He makes the false assumption that these measures will hold small customers captive to power prices set by the government.

If he had done his homework more thoroughly he would know that all small customers in New South Wales now have a choice. They can choose to remain regulated customers at a price set by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal or they can choose to buy their power from any retailer of their choice.

It appears that Mr Ries would deprive them of this choice. If not, then surely he would accept the sense of a mechanism like ETEF, which enable retailers to provide power at a regulated price, yet protects them from the kind of financial disaster which Californian retailers recently experienced as a result of regulated retail prices and unregulated wholesale prices.

His assertion that contracting out electricity trading would “take a huge chunk of NSW’s power out of the national market” is also bunkum. If the proposal proceeds, all that will happen is that the trading function will be performed by the private sector, rather than our publicly owned utilities. He seems upset that there would be “reserve prices”, but surely he can’t be suggesting that a free market requires buyers and sellers to accept uncommercial prices.

Should a farmer be forced to send his tomatoes to market if the transport costs exceed the price he’ll get in the market?

According to Mr Ries’ logic he should, otherwise the market would be rigged.

Finally, I would have thought that any analysis of the New South Wales reforms would have given some attention to the results.

The facts are that for the last twelve months the average wholesale electricity pool price in NSW – at $36 per megawatt hour – was the lowest in the national market, as indeed it has been since the reforms began.

The pre-reform price was around $53.50, or $63 in today’s dollars.

NSW consumers, especially businesses, have secured a real $1.6 billion saving since reform began in 1995.

Yours sincerely

Michael Egan

FATTY O’BARRELL’S BAGGAGE

8 February 2002

The Editor

The Australian Financial Review

Fax: 9282 3137

Dear Editor

Please tell me that your article ‘Early days yet for public-private projects’ (AFR, 8 Feb) is a joke.

You report that NSW Opposition transport spokesman Barry O’Farrell says that this Government is ‘too cautious’ when it comes to public-private infrastructure projects.

What you fail to report is that Barry O’Farrell, while senior adviser to former NSW Transport Minister Bruce Baird, was one of the architects of Sydney’s disastrous Airport Link project.

The Coalition’s ‘no cost to the taxpayer’ airport rail project ended up costing the taxpayer over $700 million.

If Barry O’Farrell has learnt nothing from his debacle, this Government has.

Public private partnerships, as we’ve seen in this country and elsewhere, can have significant benefits or be costly failures.

Achieving the former and avoiding the latter requires good projects and good contracts, and appropriate care and caution along the way.

Michael Egan

BEWARE THE BABY BOOMER WITHIN

11 June, 2002

The Editor

The Australian Financial Review

Fax: 9282 3137

Dear Editor,

Beware the baby-boomer within!

That old party animal Tony Harris is out to let the good times roll. (11 June: ‘Debt myths at our expense’).

His feel-good contention that debt is good might fill some column inches, but it’s nonsense and he knows it.

When the Carr Government came to power in 1995, the annual interest bill on the State’s debt was nearly $1700 million a year.

We’ve got that down to $760 million a year.

In other words, the NSW Government has almost $1 billion extra now for spending on hospitals, schools and other services.

And Mr Harris thinks that’s bad public policy!

To be fair, Tony Harris does make the point that debt is only part of the picture- that unfunded superannuation liabilities also need to be tackled.

We’re doing that but the Commonwealth isn’t. Our net financial liabilities, including unfunded superannuation and other liabilities, have fallen from $32.5 billion in 1995 to $22 billion now.

They are expected to fall further over the next four years.

Yours sincerely

Michael Egan

I’M NO HOLLOW LOG RAIDER

17 June 2002

The Editor

Sydney Morning Herald

FAX: 9282 3492

Dear Editor

Your front page story by Robert Wainwright on 15 June asserted that state-owned businesses are being forced to borrow in part to meet demands for government dividends.

This is wrong. Dividends come from the businesses’ profits not from their income earning borrowings. No profits, no dividends.

Businesses will borrow around 20 per cent of the $3 billion-plus a year they are spending on new electricity networks, water systems, rail track and other capital works.

But you don’t have to believe me. In its 5 June media release the ratings agency Standard and Poors said government businesses were “ramping up (their) capital expenditure program to about $3 billion – $3.5 billion per year in the next four years.”

It went on: “..the public sector is unlikely to be able to fund this increased spending internally and so the state is projecting a negative net lending requirements (borrowing) of more than $1 billion a year in the next three years.”

On the rise in income earning borrowings Standard and Poors said “…the state’s finances are in such a strong position that it can easily afford such an increase now.”

So there you have it. Borrowing for income earning investment, not for dividends.

Your story also asserted that I did not detail in my Budget comments that debt in government businesses is set to rise over the next four years.

I count more than a dozen substantial references to rising business debt in the major Budget paper, and five – yes, five – tables showing rising income earning debt.

In my speech I said:”…government businesses will undertake $3.3 billion of new income earning investments…financed approximately 80 per cent by grants and the businesses’ own cash flows and financial assets and 20 per cent from commercial borrowings.”

Yours sincerely

Michael Egan

ENDS

Crikey: How was that! Send in the budget papers and more Egan letters, that’s what we say.

State public finances are one area that the media does not give enough attention. We’d like to fire up on this leading into the Victorian and NSW elections but we have only got a set of Victorian budget papers when we’d love to see the documents from every state and territory.

Anyone who sends in a set of non-Victorian budget papers to PO Box 318, South Melbourne 3205 will get a free subscription.

And we’d also like to work out if there is a more feisty political letter writer than Michael Egan. Jeff Kennett sent some beauties over the years but we’d love to be e-mailed or faxed some other examples on (03) 9696 0452.

Peter Fray

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