The Boilermaker tackles the election…

Meet the Public

There’ll be plenty more time to provide running commentary on the
Federal Election. God knows that there’ll be plenty of opportunities
for the Boilermaker to tap into the popular mood at rail stations at 6
in the morning. I’m looking forward to getting lots of free advice
about exactly where Michael Costa can shove his trains – though I’m not
sure the 8 car trains will actually fit there. So Boilermaker Bill will
leave readers with a few thoughts on the Federal election for now:

John Howard running on a platform of trust is the greatest act of
chutzpah in Australian politics since Doc Evatt thought it’d be a good
idea to brandish a letter from Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov to
assert that any allegation of Soviet espionage in Australia was plainly
false.

I don’t know how well Labor’s line that a vote for John Howard is a
vote for Peter Costello for PM will travel, particularly if voters
realise that a vote for Mark Latham is a vote for Simon Crean as
Treasurer.

Who will be the first media outlet to trot out clips of Robert de Niro
in that marvellous, but sometimes cringe inducing, film, Meet the
Parents
, about meeting one’s prospective in-laws for the first time? De
Niro’s character lays down some ground rules for his daughter’s beau:
making a circle with his thumb and forefinger, De Niro welcomes the
shellshocked lad into the circle of trust. Can we expect to be invited
into Howard’s circle of trust?

Orange Grove Squeezed Out

Last week I said that Bob Carr should get down on his knees and give
thanks for Mike Scrafton and the Olympics for distracting the public
from the shambles that is his Government at the moment. Now Carr should
get back on his knees and also thank John Howard for calling the
election.

The NSW Parliament comes back from a long two month break today, and
this is probably the rattiest I have ever seen this Government. Health
and transport are at crisis point, and are heading for a serious
implosion. Carr and Craig Knowles have the prospect of separate ICAC
hearings in the next few weeks. There are also rumours circulating that
ICAC is having a look at more misuse of Parliamentary allowances. This
week, the increased poker machine taxes kick in, and it’s full page ads
at ten paces as the Government and the Registered Clubs battle it out.
And while the Federal election will take some of the heat from the Carr
Government, the parlous state of NSW’s health and transport systems
threatens to do serious damage to the prospects for Federal Labor in
key NSW seats.

This week will really test Carr, and his Planning Ministers, Knowles
and Diane Beamer. As I¡¦ve said up till now there hasn’t been a serious
allegation of influence peddling that has stuck to Carr and his
Government ¡V unlike some of his predecessors as Premier, and not a few
former Planning Ministers. The Orange Grove mess now threatens to
fatally injure at least one MP’s career: the question is, who? Putting
together all the various allegations swirling around the carcass of
Orange Grove basically means that someone out of Carr, Knowles, Beamer
and Joe Tripodi, a Parliamentary Secretary, wasn’t telling the truth
about the pressure put on to block the rezoning of the Orange Grove
factory outlet, and at least one will have to go. To make matters
worse, the Orange Grove affair might just herald an all out factional
war in the ALP branches in South Western Sydney ¡V the base of not a
few highfliers in Federal and State Labor, including Knowles, Beamer,
Tripodi, Mark Latham, Carl Scully, Reba Meagher and Paul Lunch.

But it’s also a test for Opposition Leader John Brogden and the
Coalition: if J-Bro and Deputy Liberal Leader Barry O’Farrell can’t
claim at least one scalp from this imbroglio then they might as well
give the game away. For the first time since Brian Langton’s
resignation in the wake of his travel allowance scandal, there is a
real prospect of a forced departure from Labor’s front benches and if
the Opposition can’t make it happen, there’ll be serious questions
about its capacity to ever deliver a knock out blow to this Government.

Orange Grove or Grave?

The events facing State Labor the past few weeks have seen
unprecedented murmurings about Carr¡¦s leadership. Since he came close
to knocking off the Greiner Government in 1991, Carr’s leadership has
never been under threat. But some MPs are feeling sufficiently
concerned and motivated to idly muse about what might happen when Carr
leaves ¡V a significant step up from thinking what would happen if Carr
were to go of his own volition.

It’s always been understood that Knowles and Scully are the main
contenders for the post-Carr leadership. There has been some recent
speculation that Health Minister Morris Iemma would be the dark horse
in a future race, but many are wary of his capacity to step up to the
leadership after it took him nearly nine months to get a sufficient
grip on the Health portfolio. Last year¡¦s Budget Estimates showed
Iemma’s slow grasp of the portfolio when he took virtually every
question on notice rather than answer them at the hearing. If Carr were
to leave as Premier, it¡¦ll likely be at the fag end of a Government
more than 10 years old, and if Iemma took as long to hit his stride as
it took in Health, Labor will be in no position to win an almost
unprecedented fourth consecutive victory (fifth, if you count Labor’s
miraculous near-victory in 1991).

Knowles is somewhat tainted at present as a result of the allegations
that he bullied and intimidated the nurses who blew the whistle on the
crisis in hospital care at Camden and Campbelltown hospitals, although
it appears that ICAC has sufficient evidence before it to eventually
give Knowles the benefit of the doubt. Scully has been assiduous in
looking after the Labor caucus who will choose Carr’s replacement, and
is highly regarded. Michael Costa¡¦s ham fisted management of the rail
system makes Scully’s previous stewardship of the Transport portfolio
look like a golden era of rail. Scully’s current portfolios of Roads
and Housing offer the perfect opportunity to look after the
backbenchers: new money for roads and assistance with public housing
are the bread and butter of a local Member, and Scully is highly
regarded on this front. If Bob Carr were to fall under a train tomorrow
Scully would have the backing of a clear majority of the numbers in
Caucus. But that would depend on a train actually running on that line
¡V so Scully may well have to bide his time.


The Gosford Pimpernel

National Missing Persons Week was held during the Parliamentary winter
break, but despite the ample publicity, there were no reported
sightings of the Liberal Member for Gosford and Shadow Minister for
Commerce, Chris Hartcher. The sittings today might be the first
opportunity in quite a while to sight the man who one of Boilermaker
Bill’s correspondents has nicknamed the foetus in a suit. If anyone
does sight the Swamp Fox can they drop a line to the Boilermaker at the
address below.


That thinking feeling

The (Sydney) Magazine, a big glossy monthly freebie with the Sydney Morning Herald
and a sop to Sydney’s more onanistic tendencies, last week came up with
a list of Sydney¡¦s ten finest minds. From the list of minds we are
supposed to be in awe of Bob Carr (just because he reads books), JJJ
announcer Adam Spencer (just because he finished a maths degree),
Geraldine Brooks (just because she’s written three books, one of which
was her pen pal correspondence dressed up as a book) and Gene Sherman
(an art gallery owner who apparently can make a speech). It’s what
happens when you let the luvvie tendency to draw up the list.

The Boilermaker reckons that this esteemed journal doesn’t have enough
lists, so he’s suggesting a new list: Australia’s finest minds, sorted
by cities. Here¡¦s a few of the candidates that the Boilermaker would
suggest for Sydney:

Roger Wilkins, head of The Cabinet Office and Director General of the
Arts, with an interest in philosophy and German literature.

Justice Jim Spigelman. Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court,whose
judgements are models of clarity, reflected also in his speaking
engagements. Waging a war against the econocrats that would have
justice boiled down to a performance indicator, but a superb manager of
a profession that too often does not lend itself to management from the
top.

George Cardinal Pell. A massive intellect that is all too easily
underestimated when his only forays into Sydney¡¦s public life seems to
be to swat the gadflies who think that a debate is won by whoever yells
the longest and loudest.

Professor Ian Hickie and Professor Gordon Parker, respectively at
Sydney University and the University of NSW. Sometimes opponents,they
are leading and informing the debate on the curse of the modern day,
depression.

Kate Gaul, theatre director and impresario. The director of practically
every fresh play to appear on Sydney’s stages in recent years.

Patrick Parkinson, Professor of Law at Sydney University, author of
leading law textbooks. Every significant foray into child protection in
NSW gets run past this unassuming thinker, and when it does, it¡¦s
usually changed for the better.

Boilermaker Bill is waiting by his mailbox for your missives. Send them to boilermakerbill @crikey.com.au

Peter Fray

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