Boilermaker Bill McKell returns from the Wombat Trail battered, bruised
and bemused to observe the goings on at Macquarie Street.

Carr trip to Canberra – Part XXII

When Boilermaker Bill was a young ‘un he was often told by Mama McKell
that every cloud has a silver lining and it is an ill wind that blows
nobody any good. Mama McKell’s platitudes have obviously been seized
upon by backers of Bob “Hamlet” Carr, the Prince of Maroubra, who coming
upon the wreckage of Federal Labor, see this as an opportunity for their
man to be given the role he so richly deserves – the next and future
Labor Prime Minister. They see Hamlet’s offer to start a new era in
New-New Federalism as a sign that he has designs on a new stage for his
considerable talents.

So when exactly is Hamlet going to make his move? Before the next
election? Hardly. Carr hated just about every minute of his time as
Leader of the Opposition, and that’s when he was within striking
distance of Government after his very first election campaign, and won
it at his second attempt. At least two Federal elections in Opposition
would just about kill him. And that’s without even factoring in that a
good portion of the New South Wales electorate would cheerfully take a
cricket bat to him as they wait for their late or cancelled train, pick
their kids up from leaking schools, return to hospital so that the
doctors can retrieve their gauze or surgical scissors from their insides
or pay new property taxes. Carr’s magic touch has gone from stroking the
electoral g-spot to rougher than usual handling.

There’s no holding back the Nile

Yesterday afternoon the great unwashed from the Legislative Assembly had
to trot over to Losers Lounge to fill a casual vacancy in the Lounge.
Members dutily filed in to discharge their solemn responsibility of
filling the spot vacated by failed Senate candidate Fred Nile…with Fred
Nile. Taking the reins of the Christian Democratic Party back from
fellow God-botherer Gordon Moyes, who was quite looking forward to being
the CDP leader, Nile has yet again goosed those who thought they had
finally seen the back of him.

Long term observers should not have been surprised – Fred has been very
assiduous in wresting back control of the party when the mood takes him.
Jim Cameron (Ross’ old man), Marie Bignold and John Bradford (remember
him? The former Liberal MP for MacPherson who left the party to run for
the CDP in 1998, and was going to be given Elaine Nile’s seat in Losers
Lounge but was dropped when he intended to live in Queensland while
being a NSW MP) can tell you that you underestimate Fred at your peril.

But even this second coming of Fred took the breath away from long term
observers of NSW politics, stunned at the sheer chutzpah (well Fred does
bang on about Judeo-Christian principles) of picking up where he had
left off. He relinquishes his title of Father of the House to Michael
Egan (who seconded the nomination, given that the CDP had no-one to
endorse Moyes’ nomination) and becomes the newest member of the Lounge.
Moyes hid his disappointment well by telling the sitting:

I have explained to Fred the finer details of being a new member,
including the fact that I take milk, no sugar.

Unkind people noting the rise and rise of Family First (who may well get
up Fred’s pet project of Family Impact Statements up at a Federal level)
have suggested that the CDP might consider a change of its name to “Fred

Green with envy

Such witticisms are apparently well beyond the talent of Greens MLC,
Sylvia Hale, who saw dark designs in Fred’s return to Losers Lounge, and
the Fenian hand of Michael Egan involved somewhere. She told the Lounge
in the Adjournment debate that:

It is unfortunate that the Government has been willing to allow the
rules of this House to be manipulated to facilitate the reverend’s
return. We can only hope that the Premier’s grand plan to secure
Sydney’s water for the next 25 years does not include the recycled
waters of the Nile.

Egan wasn’t going to let this cant stand, and got up in the Adjournment
Debate to let off a few barrels at the hot and bothered Greens, who had
thought that their John Kaye was a dead cert for the Senate:

Recently, Ms Lee Rhiannon has made all sorts of comments in the media,
and one only has to read the Australian Associated Press report for it
to be made quite clear why she is so hostile about Reverend Fred Nile
coming back into this House. And the reason is that Reverend Fred Nile’s
preferences at the Senate election helped elect Michael Forshaw as the
third Australian Labor Party senator, rather than a Greens candidate.
Heaven only knows why Ms Sylvia Hale or Ms Lee Rhiannon would expect
Fred Nile to give his preferences to the Greens; nobody else would have
thought that a likely scenario.

Ms Lee Rhiannon referred to an unholy alliance between the Government
and Reverend Fred Nile. What sort of alliance would it have been had
there been an alliance between the Christian Democratic Party and the
Greens? Would that have been acceptable? Ms Lee Rhiannon is complaining
about the fact that Reverend Fred Nile in a Senate election gave his
preferences to an Australian Labor Party candidate ahead of the Greens
candidate; that is all she is complaining about. It is as simple as that!

Position Vacant: One ICAC Commissioner

During the week Boilermaker Bill was sharing some quiet libations at the
Hotel Chambers with a few old hands from Phillip Street. The topic
turned to the shortlist for the ICAC Commissioner’s job, which will be
vacated by Irene Moss next month after five years at the helm.

Last week, the Sun Herald’s Alex Mitchell reported that the pea in the
pod was apparently Graham Blewitt, a former war crimes prosecutor at the
UN tribunal in The Hague. Apart from being absent from Australia for
nearly 10 years (which might be seen as an asset in some quarters), the
stunning lack of success from his earlier work in hunting down Nazis who
had crawled through the Ratlines to Australia might be trotted out as a
mark against him. It was obvious that Mitchell had been given a kite to
fly, but by whom? Blewitt has some old colleagues from his National
Crime Authority days who are well disposed to him, but it’s unlikely
they could get sufficient momentum behind his cause from their current
vantage points.

No, it seems this particular kite could be seen from Level 39 of
Governor Macquarie Tower. The word is that there are two candidates in
serious running for the job – (Boilermaker Bill shies away from
embarrassing either should they be unsuccessful) – with one being a
Supreme Court Judge (with his own war crimes tribunal experience) while
the other is a QC. Both have carried out inquiries for ICAC in the past.
But the selection panel of Cabinet Office supremo Roger Wilkins,
Premier’s Department chief Col Gellatly and head of the Attorney
General’s Department Laurie Glanfield seem to be split. No doubt the
panel is acutely sensitive to the number of incomplete inquiries
involving the Government that are currently with ICAC. But with time
running out, and an appointment due to go before Cabinet on Monday, it
looks like a compromise will have to be made.

Job for the girl?

Whoever gets the ICAC job will have a full plate when they get there.
ICAC has yet to bring down its findings on the Peter Breen matter, and
inquiries are still underway into former Health Minister (and Premier
wannabe) Craig Knowles and his treatment of whistleblower nurses as well
as the fallout from the Orange Grove affair, which has a cast of
thousands ranging from Frank and Steven Lowy, the Premier and Knowles
(again) and some dodgy denizens from the rotten boroughs out at
Liverpool and Fairfield.

And if Question Time on Wednesday is any indication ICAC has also been
asked to look at the appointment of Jane Fitzgerald, former Chief of
Staff to Police Minister John Watkins, to a $175 000 posting as Deputy
Director General of the Police Ministry.

A bit of background here. The Police Ministry is a bit of a no-man’s
land between the Minister and NSW Police. Following on from criticism
during the Wood Royal Commission about blurring between politics, policy
and operational policing, the Ministry was tasked to be a buffer between
the two, and until this past year it operated with minimal staffing. It
was so marginalised that high ranking cops thought there might be a
chance to get rid of it.

But when Watkins (nominally from the left) was made Minister last year
he was told by Treasury to rein in the spiralling cost overruns –
largely the result of former Minister Michael Costa’s maniacal effort to
get 14 000 police out on the beat before the 2003 election. Watkins
seized on the opportunity to show that he can be trusted with the purse
strings (and thereby make him a viable candidate for a tilt at the
leadership) and issued a string of memos to the Police Commissioner as
to where he wanted to see savings. One of Watkins’ strategies was to
take responsibility for managing the Police property portfolio away from
the Commissioner and give it to the Ministry. In one fell swoop the
Ministry gained another 20 positions and a new position of Deputy
Director General.

Watkins obviously thought that he needed an insider to keep the savings
on track and that Fitzgerald was more valuable in the police bureaucracy
than in his office. Fitzgerald was COS to Paul “Benny” Whelan when he
was Police Minister but they had a spectacular falling out and
Fitzgerald was banished to Siberia – well as good as – given that she, a
right winger, went to Watkin’s office when he was a lowly Minister for
Sport and Recreation. Watkins subsequently was promoted to Education and
then Police, which allowed Fitzgerald to return to policing in triumph.
I’ve said before that Fitzgerald was one of the best minders in the
game, but she’s trod on so many police toes in her time that grumbling
about her appointment started as soon as she arrived at the Ministry.
The Opposition skated around the appointment during estimates but were
sufficiently confident to ask Watkins about the appointment during
Question Time on Wednesday.

Watkins defended Fitzgerald’s appointment saying that:

Appointment of the position was merit based and the independent
selection panel, which members opposite criticise, comprised the
Director-General of the Ministry for Police, the New South Wales Crime
Commissioner and the former Director-General of the Department of
Education and Training.

So let’s see, two members of the panel, the D-G of the Ministry and the
Crime Commissioner, answer directly to Watkins, and have worked with
Fitzgerald in the past and present. And the third member, the presumed
independent, was Jan McClelland (sister of Robert) who was appointed D-G
of Education in 2002 when Watkins was Minister for Education (with
Fitzgerald as Chief of Staff) before being dumped by Deputy Premier
Refshauge earlier this year.

Fitzgerald’s appointment follows on the heels of the appointment of
Treasurer Michael Egan’s former Chief of Staff, Michael Coutts Trotter
(married to Tanya Plibersek- see, wheels within wheels) as Director
General of the Department of Commerce and the appointment of former
Premier’s Department apparatchik Brad Fitzmaurice to be the NSW trade
representative in London. Fitzgerald and Coutts Trotter are outstanding
candidates, but it all smacks of jobs for the boys and girls, and no
doubt will be pursued by the Opposition.

Labor’s Ragtime Blues

In a rather unhelpful contribution yesterday given the Daily Telegraph’s
ongoing digging for more evidence of a government falling apart at the
seams, ALP left winger Alan Ashton made it quite clear just what he
thought of the estimable journal:

Mr MALCOLM KERR: It is the wisest project this Government has
undertaken. The honourable member then referred to buses. I would like
to give each honourable member opposite the money to buy a copy of the
Daily Telegraph.

Mr Alan Ashton: I wouldn’t take it if you tried to give it to me.

Mr Alan Ashton: You gave it to me. It’s an outrageous, fascist rag. I
want you to respond to that, so it goes in Hansard.

Mr MALCOLM KERR: I refute the suggestion that the Daily Telegraph is
an outrageous, fascist rag.

Mr Alan Ashton: I wouldn’t use the Daily Telegraph if I was in an
outback toilet!

Vale Tony McGrane MP

Someone once described Parliamentary condolence motions as organised
hypocrisies. But Wednesday night saw a genuinely moving tribute to Tony
McGrane, the independent member for Dubbo, who died on 15 September just
weeks after being diagnosed with what would prove to be a vicious liver
cancer. The speeches about Tony were a real tonic for those jaded and
cynical about politics. Twenty-six members – from whom you would
ordinarily be hard pressed to get agreement on just what day of the week
it was – all vividly testified to the life and contribution of Tony

If you sometimes forget just why we entrust politicians to govern us
then this extract from NSW Hansard should be a potent reminder – read it here.

*Boilermaker Bill McKell is enjoying his newly allocated 250 Mb at
boilermaker_bill so
drop him a line.