No-one
doubts Bob Carr’s capacity, but capacity is no substitute for
substance. For too much of his time as premier he behaved in just the
same way as he did when he got bored at Bondi during the Olympics. “As
the beach volley ball dragged on I plugged in my Walkman and heard a
lecture on James Joyce,” Carr recorded in his famous diaries.

That
admission says plenty about the man. Forget the encomiums. The Carr
years have not been wasted years, but they’ve been years of indulgence.
And after indulgence comes hangovers.

Charles
Richardson pointed out in yesterday’s Crikey Daily how NSW has been “at
the leading edge of the electoral cycle since at least the 1980s.” So
let’s go back to those days. Antony Green
wrote yesterday in his summary of the premier’s career: “The advances
Mr Carr made in the first two years of the Greiner government were
reversed in 1990 as the huge financial disasters associated with state
Labor governments in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia
were revealed. While Mr Greiner’s economic policies were not popular,
they came to be seen in a different light as NSW suffered far less from
the economic downturn of the early 1990s.”

Labor got Nick
Greiner’s measure politically, but he’s one of the few Liberals whose
intellect the bruvvers have some respect for. Greiner got the policy
setting right. Labor didn’t reverse many of his reforms – but they
didn’t build on them either. That’s what makes Greiner’s assessment of
the Carr years in today’s Sydney Morning Herald even more damning.

He
brilliantly masterminded the minimal risk, masterful inactivity model
of politics, which suited a time of strong national economic growth and
increases in state revenues and has been substantially copied by other
state ALPs… Carr’s term will be seen as an outstanding example of
modern politics, of the supremacy of perception over performance and
spin over substance. Equally, it will be seen as a missed opportunity
to put NSW far ahead of the rest of the states in terms of the quality
of public sector outcomes.

His government has ridden the
property boom and continued national growth, but failed to invest the
proceeds in the basic infrastructure needed to drive the state that
drives the nation – let alone continue with the economic reform to
speed it on.

Today’s editorial in The Australian is headed “A genius for politics that went to waste.”
It’s an excellent epitaph for Carr’s career. Getting out on top is a
clever short-term move, but it does nothing for the long-term legacy.
Looking at NSW today, we can’t even say that Carr has managed that.

Peter Fray

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