So it’s goodbye to New South Wales’ longest continually serving
premier. Bob Carr has bowed out with the inevitable quote from Lincoln – but wasn’t he the bloke who said:
“It is best not to swap horses when crossing streams”? Carr cracked Neville Wran’s record back in
May. Nifty also stood down abruptly. And the Labor Party crashed two years
later at the 1988 election. Will history repeat at the 2008 poll?

“I am not going to baptise a successor,”
Carr claimed, but police minister Carl Scully is already being tipped as his
likely successor, with health minister Morris Lemma’s name also turning up. Carr claims he has “no plans, no job
offers.” Kim Beazley has praised the premier – but no doubt he will be keen to
know more detail. A federal career has been tipped for Carr before. After Wran
stepped down and Labor lurched under Barry Unsworth, it was thought Carr was
too bookish for the brothers and could never lead the Labor Party in NSW.

Still, Carr took the reins in 1998 and only
just missed victory in 1991 when Nick Greiner kept the premier’s job by
striking a deal with independents. Labor fell across the line in 1995, chopped
Chika’s opposition to pieces in 1999 and was returned comfortably in 2003. Later that year, however, he admitted an
interest in a federal career. Mark Latham’s ascension ended these hopes, but
the 2004 federal election result and the continued weakness of federal Labor
has kept speculation about a Carr for Canberra push alive.

Still, events at home have kept Carr
distracted for much of this time. While he has made much of his responsible
financial management, the Sydney Morning Herald reported last weekend:
“Sydney has become Australia’s economic laggard. The
city’s shoppers are wary, its small businesses are gloomy, an army of
renovators has shelved plans and new home builders have gone missing. As a
result the Premier
State is stuck in the
slow lane.”

“The state’s annual growth rate is a full
percentage point below the national average and employment is growing at about
one-third the national rate,” the Herald report. Of more day-to-day concern to
voters in Australia’s
biggest city have been water shortages, crowded freeways and an unsafe and
unreliable rail system.

Carr has made much of his plans here – more
toll roads; the often-announced, then chopped back Parramatta-Chatswood rail
link; new rail and bus timetables and his jaunt to Dubai to announce a $2 billion water
desalination plant. But perhaps he’s finally wised up to the
full implications of that line often attributed to Honest Abe: “You can’t fool
all of the people all of the time.”

Or perhaps we’ve even got the wrong
president. These are touchy times for NSW and the Labor Party. Carr mightn’t be Lincoln. He might be
James Buchanan – the man who led before the Civil War.

Peter Fray

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