The Second Commandment



“You can tell when a budget passes the McKell test … It does pass the McKell test.”

Craig Knowles, Minister for Infrastructure and Planning, about last
week’s Budget, not doing quite enough to score a Subs for Mention.


Goodbye Tony, Hello Eric

Last week, Tony Burke, one of Labor’s leading lights in Losers Lounge,
said goodbye to the Lounge on his way to the campaign for the seat of
Watson following Leo McLeay’s departure at the forthcoming election.

Tony told the Lounge that he had run for election to the Upper House
last year because he had been burnt several times waiting for Leo to
finally leave the Federal Parliament:

“The practical reality for me was that the Hon. Leo
McLeay had announced that he was serving his final term—and it was the
third term in which he had done so! I was not prepared to take the risk
that he would never retire.”

Burke told the House that he had timed his resignation to avoid a
costly recall of the Parliament to fill his casual vacancy. Naturally,
there were people who imputed baser motives. Lee Rhianonn and Michael
Gallacher publicly vented their suspicions that the timing was to allow
Eric Roozendaal, the departing General Secretary of the NSW ALP and
preselected candidate for Burke’s vacancy, to get onto the gravy train
that is the Parliamentary Superannuation Scheme. More on Eric in a
moment.

It was telling that heartfelt farewells for Tony came from not only his
ALP colleagues, but from the Opposition Members. Michael Gallacher said:

He most certainly has leadership material written all
over him. Not only does he have the ability to do the job, he also has
the integrity to do the job.

Burke was a well liked Member, and gained a solid reputation on both
sides of the political divide that belied his youth and relative
inexperience as a Parliamentarian. The man who put Burke back into
Burkean conservatism will be a big loss to the Lounge.

Right, said Fred, I’m Off

It’s been a big week for the forces of decency in Australian politics.
While Brian Harradine got all the press, and Fred Nile bade the Upper
House farewell after 23 years. Fred’s bearing the standard for the
Christian Democrats in the Senate election, after a deft manoeuvre by
his CDP and Parliamentary colleague, Gordon Moyes. Fred recruited Moyes
to take Elaine Nile’s place when she retired for health reasons. Last
year, Fred asked Moyes to review the structure of the CDP to take it
into the future. Moyes’ response was to set up a panel of three to run
the party, being Fred, Moyes and a Moyes ally, Phil Lamb. When the CDP
considered its candidates for the Senate, Moyes and Baptist theologian
Peter Clifford moved that Fred be the candidate. Running for the Senate
means that Fred has to vacate his Upper House seat. Guess who the CDP
is putting up to fill the casual vacancy? Peter Clifford.

But back to Fred. Moyes told the Lounge that when the CDP did some
polling last year there was nearly 100 percent recognition of Fred.
Many only know the caricature, which fails to do justice to his
diligence, his commitment and his seemingly unlikely views on a range
of issues, such as indigenous affairs and industrial relations. I
suspect that one of the reasons that One Nation never got a serious
toehold in New South Wales was because of the likes of Fred Nile and
John Tingle, who tapped the conservative seam of NSW politics,
providing a voice for the sort of voter who might otherwise have voted
for Hanson.

Watch for the Greens to put up another Euthanasia bill in the next
session of Parliament, now that two of their most ardent opponents,
Tony Burke and Fred Nile, have left the Lounge.

The Things We Do

As Bob Carr was in Tasmania for Jim Bacon’s funeral last Thursday, it
was left to Deputy Premier Andrew Refshauge to move the nomination of
Eric Roozendaal to fill the casual vacancy in Losers Lounge. The irony
wasn’t lost on the left wing Refshauge, with him telling the Joint
Sitting:

“I find it rather intriguing that I am assisting with Eric Roozendaal’s leaving the headquarters of the Australian Labor Party.”

Talk of Eric’s elevation to the Ministry in the near future is largely
unfounded. Losers Lounge already has six Ministers (Michael Egan, John
Della Bosca, Carmel Tebbutt, Tony Kelly, Michael Costa, and John
Hatzistergos), an impressive percentage of the Labor contingent in the
Lounge. In the past, the Lounge only provided one or two Ministers.
Aspiring candidates from the Lower House are hardly likely to aid
Roozendaal’s fast tracking into the Ministry, nor is the Left. The size
of the Losers Lounges contingent was only secured when the factions
gave Carr, Egan and Della Bosca a free hand to shape the Ministry after
Labor’s big win last year. The Caucus is hardly likely to give those
three the same licence again.

There’s only eight ALP backbenchers in Losers’ Lounge, none of whom are
going to set the world on fire. They have to be spread across the five
general standing committees, three standing committees and a stack of
joint standing committees. The Coalition has been getting more adept at
using the Committee system to embarrass the Government. Witness the
flow of revelations from the inquiry into the health complaints system,
the resignation of the former CEO of Sydney Water, and the removal of
the Sydney Ferries boss a day before he was due to front an Estimates
Committee. There is virtually nothing to prevent the Opposition and
cross benchers from giving the Government a touch up in these Committee
hearings.

Eric will be counted on to give a bit of starch to the Government’s
participation in committees. So the Government has made him the Chair
of the State Development committee, a member of the Law and Justice
committee, and a member of two separate Estimates committees. A
ministry is way off in the distance for Eric – probably when Costa and
Tebbutt get their lower house seats.

Turning off the tap

On Monday this week the Upper House debated legislation to bring
Parliament House in line with the rest of the state when it comes to
serving and consuming alcohol. The legislation, which comes in the wake
of the notorious incident involving Peter Black in the Lower House,
when the Deputy Liberal Leader, Barry O’Farrell was kicked out of the
House for using the vernacular to describe Blacky’s apparent
inebriation.

During the debate, the Australian Democrat, Arthur Chesterfield Evans
related an incident from several years ago when the Upper House was
sitting alongside the Press Gallery Christmas Party. The party, one of
the few – nay the only – social highlights of the year, sees the wine
and beer flow freely.

ACE told the Lounge:

A couple of years ago on the night of the media
Christmas party I was fortunate to have an amendment to a worker’s
compensation bill accepted. I was very proud of that because I thought
it was a very important amendment. A member who had promised to support
me was not in the Chamber at the critical time. The Government found
the member to be severely inebriated and persuaded him to change his
vote. After that, the bill was recommitted and my amendment was
negatived.

ACE didn’t name the member concerned, leaving a cloud over the head of
a few crossbenchers. Boilermaker Bill did a bit of research and can
show you what went on during the night of 29 November 2001. The Lounge
had spent nearly the whole day debating the Workers Compensation
Legislation Further Amendment Bill. At 11.10 pm, ACE moved an amendment
to allow commutations by self-insurers. The Government opposed the
amendment but the Opposition supported ACE’s amendment. The amendment
went through at 11.20, by 16 votes to 15. Remember ACE said that member
concerned wasn’t present for this vote. The crossbenchers who voted for
ACE’s amendment were Peter Breen, ACE, Ian Cohen, Richard Jones, Lee
Rhiannon and Peter Wong while Malcolm Jones and Fred Nile voted against
the amendment.

At 11.47pm, the Government moved to have the chamber to vote again on
the amendment. This time it was a motion that ACE’s amendment be
omitted from the Bill. The fifteen votes the Government had for the
earlier vote wouldn’t be enough to overturn the amendment. However,
David Oldfield was present for this vote, and went along with the
Government to delete the amendment. The vote was now 16 all – and the
Chairman of Committees used the casting vote to omit the amendment.

ACE come clean – is this the vote you’re referring to?

Not the PIC of the crop

It’s ironic that at a time when there are calls to establish an
independent anti-corruption unit to take on police corruption in
Victoria there are serious questions about the ability of the Police
Integrity Commission (PIC) in NSW. Just two days ago PIC delivered its
report on Operation Florida, which looked at police associations with
drug dealers in Manly and the Northern Beaches. It was the subject of a
Chris Masters story on 4 Corners in 2001. Operation Florida went public
in October 2001, with hearings finished at the end of 2002.

So it took 18 months to write the report – so long, in fact, that the
hearing Commissioner, Tim Sage, left PIC and took up a role with the
Australian Crime Commission six months ago. It’s not the first time
that a report has had to be written after the Hearing Commissioner has
left the organisation. Operation Malta, which examined allegations that
senior police were derailing the reform process, had to be finished
months after its hearing Commissioner, Paul Urquhart, returned to the
District Court.

The Committee that oversees PIC had another reminder a few weeks back
that Terry Griffin, the PIC Commissioner, is probably one of the
weakest appointments made by the Carr Government. Last year Griffin had
floated the idea of allowing serving and former NSW police officers to
work at PIC. NSW police have been prevented from being employed at PIC
to ensure an arms length relationship. The idea was quickly shot down
by the oversight Committee, but Griffin was asked by the Committee to
appear before them and justify his proposal for letting NSW police work
for PIC.

So Griffin turned up with his executive, and told the Committee that he
had been rolled on this decision by his senior managers. The Committee
had only just got over that, when he confessed to not having a grip on
the details on PIC’s budget. When asked by the Committee about the
budgetary impact of employing officers from interstate, he told the
Committee:

I am told that we had a $1.6 million deficit last year
on net worth, whatever that means… I do not understand the artistry,
but the figures are illusory to the point that if it were me running my
private business I went broke last year but we are still giving
Treasury $600,000 back. I cannot really figure it out because I do not
know…

When asked another question about the deficit, Griffin said:

I am happy to try. The difficulty is the accounting, as
I understand at the moment, has some Treasury spin on it that I am not
able to understand.

After that Griffin then had to be pulled back by one of his managers
when he started publicly musing about the state of PIC’s
telecommunication interception equipment:

The trouble is the TI system we are running is at the
point where it is unstable and we are, as I understand it, pinch
hitting to keep it running. The costs are—
[Interruption]

My Director of Operations says, and I must say I agree with him, this probably should not be in the public arena.

Among the committee’s members there was some serious head shaking after
this performance. The Opposition have clearly flagged that they’re
unhappy with aspects of the management of PIC, and are concerned about
the relationship between the Government and the watchdogs. Expect them
to follow this up in Estimates.

Naked City Stripped

One of the few must reads of the Sun Herald was the Naked City column,
a mix of political and law enforcement gossip and commentary penned by
Alex Mitchell and Candace Sutton. But after Sutton accepted one of the
Fairfax redundancies, the Sun Herald editor, Phil McLean, responded by
yanking the column from the next edition of the paper. No explanation,
no farewell from Sutton – not a jot after her 15 year career with the
Sun Herald.

After the column was pulled, Boilermaker Bill’s first thought was for
those who no longer had an outlet for their insider knowledge of NSW
politics and administration. But never fear, the Boilermaker will
gladly accept the responsibility of plugging the massive hole left by
the Naked City’s departure. Join the cast of dozens who look after the
Boilermaker’s (and the Crikey audience’s) insatiable thirst for
knowledge of what’s going on and going down in the Premier State.

Boilermaker Bill can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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