It was a virtuoso performance by retiring NSW Premier Bob Carr at
Parliament House in Macquarie Street this morning, so stand by for some
fawning tributes from Labor figures and journalists alike.

There’s no doubt that Bob Carr is a brilliant political performer who,
as a former journalist, understands the power and nuances of the media
cycle better than most. When I was briefly a very bad chief-of-staff at
The Daily Telegraph during the 1999 NSW election, Carr was
regularly on the phone to then editor Col Allan who displayed appalling
bias against Liberal leader Kerry Chikarovski.

Carr worked his relationship with the Murdoch tabloid beautifully so it was no surprise The Daily Telegraph’s
website broke the news of his impending retirement this morning.
This, of course, has nothing to do with Carr’s disgraceful $1 a year
peppercorn lease for Murdoch’s Fox Studios at the old Sydney
Showgrounds or his government’s decision not to chase $50 million in
stamp duty owed by News Corp after last year’s move to America.

But what about the substance of Carr’s policy record? NSW is falling
behind economically and is now clearly the highest taxing Australian
state, even though it has the huge natural advantage of an incredible
property bubble in Sydney. The Olympics, won by the Fahey
Government but well-delivered by the Carr Government, cemented
Sydney as a truly world class international city, so migrants, tourists
and businesses alike flocked to it in spite of the Carr Government.

Carr never took much interest in the NSW budget and his financial
recklessness is best demonstrated by his tolerance of a big spending
Lefty, deputy premier Andrew Refshauge, replacing Treasurer Michael
Egan when he retired last year. Carr gloated today that he had reduced debt by $12 billion
making his “the first government in NSW history to retire debt, rather
than add to it.”

The claim is plain wrong because Carr has allowed unfunded superannuation
liabilities to blow out by billions and has also used dodgy accounting
techniques to load up debt in off-budget enterprises, such as
electricity companies.

Carr only kept his budget nominally in surplus by more than doubling
tax revenue over his ten years in office and by leaving the field in
many infrastructure projects to gouging private enterprises. Macquarie
Bank and its listed offshoots have literally reaped billions from the
Carr Government’s inability to responsibly manage its finance to fund
essential infrastructure projects such as roads and rail upgrades.

Claiming that establishing more national parks is your greatest legacy
isn’t exactly a glowing self-endorsement, but don’t expect too much
critical analysis of Carr’s legacy from a love-struck press pack, save for an incisive column that
former NSW Auditor General Tony Harris will no doubt produce for The AFR.

Harris has been one of the only critics to accurately point out the
Carr Government’s many policy and financial weaknesses, but few others
in Sin City seem to care too much.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey