Parliament’s back for the Carr Government – or what’s left of it.
Crikey’s Macquarie St insider and Labor legend Boilermaker Bill McKell
explores some of the things you may have missed last year, and provides
a preview of what we have got to look forward to this year. First the
preview:

And this is only Day One

The Government has never been so badly placed coming into a new
Parliamentary session since its election in 1995. Sure, there have been
low points: the midnight superannuation grab of December 1997; the
Sydney Water crisis of mid 1998. But nothing like the heady brew
concocted from this cocktail of cock-ups and cover-ups.

It’s still three years out from the election, and Labor always seems to
get its act together when the time comes, but some of the longer
serving Ministers are tiring of the cycle of crisis and catch-up. At
least two Ministers have told their staff to think about their own
future over the coming months, as they may be contemplating theirs.

So tomorrow promises to be a doozy:

Remember, Parliament hasn’t sat since the release of the Health Care
Complaints Commission report on Campbelltown and Camden hospitals, and
the sacking of the Commissioner, Amanda Adrian, and former senior
bureaucrat, Jennifer Collins, by neophyte Health Minister Morris Iemma.
And Craig Knowles is still under investigation by ICAC and NSW Police
for the way in which he dealt with the whistle blowing nurses from
Campbelltown Hospital. The ICAC has also released a report that said
the system for collecting hospital stats was virtually a cover up
waiting to happen. You could have a whole Question Time centred just on
this one area.

But then Minister for Women Sandra Nori has yet to explain why she
sacked the Director General of the Department for Women, Robyn
Henderson, over summer.

And Deputy Premier and Minister for Education and Minister for
Aboriginal Affairs, Andrew Refshauge, has yet to explain why he sacked
Director General, Jan McClelland, only sixteen months after she had
been appointed following a worldwide search, and replaced with Andrew
Cappie Wood, who worked with the Minister as Director General of the
Department of Housing.

It might also be interesting to pursue why Education has been broken up
into five discreet areas under an office of the Director General:
Teaching and Learning (essentially, school education), TAFE, Strategic
Planning and Regulation, Corporate Services – and the doozy – Corporate
Communications.

Under this new restructure, DET will have separate unit for media and
communications, with a Chief of Communications (SES), who has a
Director of Media and Communications and Director of Corporate
Marketing (each SES) and an Administrative Coordinator (just below SES
range) reporting to him (I’m assuming the Chief will be Daniel Blyde,
former Channel 9 reporter and press secretary to Refshauge). In turn,
the Director of Media and Communications has 11 media and liaison
officers as direct reports.

And this is in addition to whatever hacks and spinners Refshauge has
squirreled away in his office. It’s a Department geared up to be style
over substance.

And Refshauge will be getting a thorough pasting in Caucus for being
AWOL during the “culture wars”. Where was his stout defence of public
schooling during the Commonwealth’s jihad against state schools. The
only story I saw him doing at the time was him diving off Clovelly to
talk about Sydney’s clean water. The man with the well-deserved
reputation as the laziest man in Cabinet will be asked to give a full
accounting of his failure to hit back at the Feds. As well, there’s two
Aboriginal Land Councils under high profile investigation by ICAC for
fraud.

Andrew Refshauge isn’t just asleep at the wheel; he’s got the seats tilted back, the aircon on, and the car in cruise control.

And what about Francesco Sartor. In one ill-advised ill-mannered
telephone call, he’s set back the ALP’s six yearlong strategy of Local
Government reform about sixty years. When Labor realised Sartor was
going to be a larger impediment to local government amalgamations by
staying as Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney than by not being there,
they quickly found a place for him in Parliament. But the reassuring
word went forth to local government and planning circles – Sartor would
be given neither Local Government nor Urban Affairs as portfolios.

Last week’s outbursts in his phone call to Lucy Turnbull, and response
to John Brogden’s criticisms, were justified by Sartor as “Frank being
frank” (why he didn’t go the whole hog, and trot out his middle name,
and tell people he’s always been frank and earnest, I don’t know), has
sent the office of the Minister for Local Government, Tony Kelly, into
a spin. If ever a Minister was going to get this local government
agenda up, it was Kelly. He’s a former Town Clerk and General Manager,
knows his way around the bush, and has a levelheaded Chief of Staff in
Virginia Knox. But it’s just been made harder by Sartor.

There is real need for local government reforms: bush councils are
going broke, or are operating close to it; inner city councils are
dysfunctional, with deliberate efforts to deny meetings quorum; seeking
AVOs; urban planning is a mish mash, with development consents taking
longer and longer to determine; and that’s not to mention the scandals
at Rockdale and Liverpool.

My only criticism is that this time round, they didn’t bite the bullet
and put up a series of proposals for boundary changes and
amalgamations, and let Councils argue for why they shouldn’t occur like
that. These turkeys were never going to vote for Christmas, so draw up
a menu, and let them take their pick.

And fans, that’s only what’s in store for tomorrow in the Legislative
Assembly. With that much on their plate, the Opposition would be far
better keeping transport for another time, and give Costa the roasting
he deserves in Losers Lounge next week.

The Untouchables

In a Christmas Eve (and as far as I can tell unreported) Media Release,
Chris Ellision announced the two  new Examiners for the Australian
Crime Commission, who would be helping it out by conducting secret
hearings and exercising its other coercive powers. They’re hefty
positions – with a total remuneration package of $280 000 – which puts
them on the same remuneration level as the Chiefs of the Army, Navy and
Air Force.

The former NSW Attorney General John Hannaford, and the former
Assistant Commissioner at the Police Integrity Commission in NSW, Tim
Sage, were appointed as the Examiners. Very able men, both of them:
from my vantage point, I regarded Hannaford as one of the ablest
Liberals – nay ablest politicians – during his political lifetime. He
was unfortunately marginalised and dealt with harshly by his NSW
Liberals colleagues late in his career due to his ill fated involvement
in the rise of Kerry Chikarovski: so much so that it was left to Labor
Treasurer Michael Egan to speak knowingly and glowingly of him at his
retirement dinner.

Tim Sage will also be missed from the Police Integrity Commission –
seeing he’s been running the joint in all but name since it’s
inception. First, Judge Paul Urquhart and then Terry Griffin, have held
the title of Police Integrity Commissioner, but Tim has been an
unceasingly loyal and effective deputy. How it will fare in his absence
is another story.

One telling anecdote earlier this year had watchdog watchers aghast and
amazed. Estimates Committees are pretty important features on the
accountability calendar. In the Police portfolio, everyone turns up –
Police Commissioner, Director General of the Ministry of Police, even
Crime Commissioner Phil Bradley turns up for gawd’s sake (but there’s
an injunction not to take any photos of Phil at the hearings, and he
tries to sneak in with a paper bag over his head).

Last year, however, Commissioner Griffin apparently sent Sage in his
stead to the Estimates Committee hearing for the Police portfolio,
telling Sage it had been cleared by the Minister, John Watkins. Watkins
was, to put it mildly, livid to not see Griffin turn up, and had
apparently been told no such thing.

Apparently Griffin is thinking of not replacing Sage, which in most PIC
watchers books would be an idea of very dubious merit. Griffin has not
put his stamp on PIC at all in the three years he’s been there – he’s
rarely if ever presided over it’s public hearings; in fact, the present
public hearings into the use of legal and illegal drugs by police is
being presided over by the retired judge who was the Inspector General
of PIC for five years. Griffin’s managed very little in the way of
organisational and cultural reform that organisations like PIC need at
this time in their organisational lifetime.

PIC’s reputation has suffered amongst those in the know from the fact
that most of it’s high profile and effective investigations have been
carefully managed by the Crime Commission and/or NSW Police Internal
Affairs before being handed over to PIC for public hearings (a function
neither the Crime Commission nor the IA branch possesses). The
recruitment of an effective number 2 may be Griffin’s last opportunity
to take the reins of the organisation he supposedly leads.

Word is that the NSW Crime Commissioner, Phil Bradley, was the decisive
force behind Griffin’s selection as PIC Commissioner (when Tim Sage was
understood to be a candidate) – but that was in the days when Bradley
carried weight with then Police Minister Paul Whelan. Bradley then
apparently took his tour of duty as acting chief of the Australian
Crime Commission as an opportunity to put his own stamp there, with
Costa’s nominated candidates for ACC CEO not getting a guernsey.

Alistair “Jock” Milroy, the ACC Commissioner, has a NSW Police
background, with stints in the NSW DEA and the NCA, but he also
presumably has his own political connections, in part thanks to a
period as Staff Officer to the Liberal Police Minister in 1993 and a
Commander in the Royal Commission into the Building Industry set up by
Greiner and Fahey in the early years of the government.

Now Milroy has his chance to be top dog in the Crime Commission caper,
using Hannaford and Sage as very helpful allies. Philip Bradley’s hold
on the title seems to have slipped since those days in Operation
Florida when he demanded his own access pass for PIC headquarters and
strode the corridors like the Mr Big of crime fighting.

In vino verbatim

Like Michael Egan, I felt that the passing of National Party stalwart,
Doug Moppett, a few years back robbed Losers Lounge of one of its most
graceful and skilled speakers. Not a note in sight when he spoke, I
would usually stop whatever I was doing to listen to Moppett. It
mightn’t have always been right, but it was lucid, well argued, and for
a brief moment in your cups, made you think about joining the Nationals.

Over Christmas, I had the chance to stumble on a remark by George
Orwell on the quality of speeches in the House of Commons in the 1940s.
He quoted historian G M Trevelyan writing, “In the 17th century MPs
quoted the Bible, in the 18th and 19th centuries the classics, in the
20th century nothing.”

Well in the twenty-first century, they’re in an even worse predicament, they’re quoting each other without attribution.

Goodness knows whether it was a the same speech notes, or a bottle of
the product under “debate” that was being passed around by Agriculture
Minister Ian MacDonald, Opposition Agriculture Spokesman Duncan Gay and
the “vasectomy baby”, Tony Cantanzariti during the Wine Grapes
Marketing Board (Reconstitution) Bill at the end of the last session.

The Minister got up first and made his second reading speech. Among other pertinent facts, Macca told Losers Lounge:

“The Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area currently produces around 200,000
tonnes of wine grapes, which is about 48 per cent of New South Wales
production. These grapes are produced by some 520 growers who deliver
to 16 wineries in the area. The typical Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area
farm size is between 10 and 20 hectares—or 25 to 50 acres—and is
commonly a mixture of citrus and wine grape production. The South
Australian Riverland and the Murray Valley, together with the
Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, all have similar production systems, with
large numbers of growers selling their grapes to a limited number of
wineries. This feature is linked to the original development of these
irrigation areas, with small-holder fruit blocks for soldier settlers
and later new immigrants. In contrast, the wine industry in most other
wine regions of Australia is based on a more universal production
system in which wineries have their own vineyards or vineyards produce
for specific wineries under contract. In that system, the going price
for wine grapes and the application of terms and conditions of payment
are not such an issue.

“The few wineries of the South Australian Riverland, the Murray Valley
and the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area produce a large proportion of
Australian wine output. Wine is an agricultural product with a long
time lag between picking the raw product and selling bottled wine to
the consumer, and this is an environment in which many small growers
need to conduct business with their customer—the winery—with some
security. In the South Australian Riverland 80 per cent of the grapes
are either produced by, or sold to, wineries under some form of
contract, and in the Murray Valley the proportion is about 50 per cent.
In the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area this proportion is less than 25 per
cent. Under these circumstances it is obvious that government
intervention could be employed to encourage the greater use of contract
trading in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area for the benefit of both the
grower and the winery that he or she supplies. That is what this
legislation aims to do.”

Macca’s words must have been ringing like the bells at Notre Dame
because two weeks later on 3 December, the Shadow Agriculture Minister
Duncan Gay got up and told Losers Lounge:

“The Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area produces about 200,000 tonnes of wine
grapes annually, which is approximately 40 per cent of the production
of wine grapes in New South Wales. Some 520 growers, who deliver to 16
wineries in the area, produce these grapes. The typical Murrumbidgee
Irrigation Area farm size is between 10 and 20 hectares—or 25 to 50
acres. It commonly has a mixture of citrus and wine grape production.
Wine is an agricultural product with a long timeframe between picking
the raw product and selling bottled wine on the market. Therefore the
many small growers need a secure environment in which to conduct their
business with their customer—the winery.

“In the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area the proportion of grapes sold
under some form of contract is less than 25 per cent. This compares
with 80 per cent of grapes in the South Australian Riverland and 50 per
cent of grapes in the Murray Valley being sold under some form of
contract. Under these circumstances there is an obvious need for
government intervention to encourage the greater use of contract
trading in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area for the benefit of both the
grower and the winery that he or she supplies.

Then ten minutes later – just 600 seconds after Duncan Gay had knocked
off half of Macca’s speech, Tony Cantanzariti gets up and tells Loser’s
Lounge:

“The Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area currently produces around 200,000
tonnes of wine grapes, which is around 48 per cent of the New South
Wales production. The grapes are produced by some 520 growers who
deliver to 16 wineries in the area. The typical Murrumbidgee Irrigation
Area farm size is between 10 and 20 hectares, or 25 to 50 acres, and is
commonly a mixture of citrus and wine grape production. The South
Australian Riverland, the Murray Valley and the Murrumbidgee Irrigation
Area have similar production systems, with large numbers of growers
selling their grapes to a limited number of wineries. That feature is
linked to the original development of the irrigation areas with
smallholder fruit blocks for soldier settlers and, later, new
immigrants.

“In contrast, the wine industry in most other wine regions of Australia
is based on a more universal production system, in which wineries have
their own vineyards, or vineyards produce for specific wineries under
contract. In that system the going price for wine grapes and the
application of terms and conditions of payment are not such an issue.
The few wineries of the South Australian Riverland, the Murray Valley
and the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area produce a large proportion of
Australia’s wine output. Wine is an agricultural product with a long
time lag between picking the raw product and selling bottled wine to
the consumer. This is an environment in which many small growers need
to conduct business with their customer—the winery—with some security.

“In the South Australian Riverland 80 per cent of the grapes are either
produced by or sold to wineries under some form of contract, and in the
Murray Valley the proportion is about 50 per cent. In the Murrumbidgee
Irrigation Area that proportion is less than 25 per cent.”

But Cantanzariti later had his own moment of eerie prescience. He told the House:

“The legislation will expire on 31 December 2007 … This legislation
will create an appropriate environment of transition to open
negotiations between the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area wine grape
growers and the wineries that buy their grapes.”

And again, not more than ten minutes later, Macca was telling the House:

“This transitional period will last until December 2007 … The
legislation will create an appropriate environment of transition to
open negotiations between Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area wine grape
growers and the wineries that buy their grapes.”

More Things to Bother God

Tony Burke, one of the few bright sparks in the Losers’ Lounge ALP
backbench team should be off to Canberra some time this year. It’ll be
interesting to see who’ll be the replacement for this particular
ecclesiastical see in Losers Lounge, previously held by the likes of
Johno Johnson. As the Good Book says, The Shoppies giveth, the Shoppies
taketh away (The Gospel According to de Bruyn).

Foot in Mouth Disease

Burke’s departure will leave behind one of the least talented bunch of
newcomers ever to have attended Caucus. Take for instance, Kristina
Kenneally, who was touted as one to watch after she had taken on the
landed gentry of inner-southern Sydney, the Brereton-Grusovin clan, to
take the seat of Heffron from Deirdre Grusovin.

But her late hour contribution to the Podiatrists Bill last October,
where she made fifteen foot related puns in an execrable three minute
speech, made old hands shake their heads in astonishment at the sheer
stupidity of her contribution and worry about whether she was really
made of the right stuff. The whips have allowed her only two more
speeches since then – both well before dinner time.

Sheer embarrassment prevents me from posting her words here, but those
in a self flagellatory mood and not inclined to join the religious wing
of the SDA should look here.

In three minutes she did her prospects more harm than it takes most backbenchers three years to achieve.

Boilermaker Bill McKell can be reached at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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