As a precocious little prat with a growing interest in politics more than a quarter of a century ago, I believed state politics was dominated by brilliant creatures. There were the two conservative knights – Sirs Joh and Charles Court. On the Labor side were Don Dunstan and Neville Wran. Now Wran, probably the dullest of the four, is the only one still around – and we’re left asking “where have all the interesting state politicians gone?”
Think about it. We have eight Labor premiers and chief ministers. All are anodyne apparatchiks who smile when their press secs tell them to and probably carry calculators in their top pockets to show that they’re fiscally responsible.
Who have been the interesting premiers of the past 25 years? I can only think of three possible nominees. Jeff Kennett has to make the list, if only because of his irrepressible Jeffishness. Brian Burke is a possible contender – but only because he was a sleaze who still, somehow, managed to wield influence in a corrupt party. And Bob Carr sneaks in, mainly on the strength of his nerdy gag from a few years back of baiting Kerry Chikarovski during question time by keeping his head in books like magic realists in the original Spanish – otherwise 100 Years of Solitude might be a good description of his own political career.
Have our politicians have changed, or our politics? Probably both. States are insignificant entities in the world markets where Australia now operates, thanks to Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. As events of recent weeks have demonstrated, the states surrendered virtually all their revenue powers to the Commonwealth under the GST deal. States don’t count. All they can do is tinker, bitch and whinge and play parish pump politics.
We might laugh at Joh as a dinosaur, but we should remember that dinosaurs once ruled the earth. They still awe us. Today’s state premiers are like the dinosaurs’ successors. They drop their tails and scuttle under rocks when trouble comes along.