NSW might be the only Australian state with a budget
deficit, despite taxing its citizens more than anyone else, but this
belies a strange phenomenon that afflicts union leaders and Labor
premiers in Sin City – they are far more commercially-focused than
their counterparts in other states. Former Victorian Labor premiers such as Joan Kirner and John Cain spend
their time working in the community, attending book launches and
surviving on their Parliamentary pensions. There is a not a commercial
venture between them.

The same can’t be said for Neville Wran and Barry Unsworth who sit on
public company boards and are now both multi-millionaires, especially
Nifty who is thought to be worth about $50 million. Bob Carr’s
commercial aspirations are unclear but he doesn’t need to work because
of his wife Helena’s lucrative printing business. The same trend is apparent with right wing power brokers in
Australia’s two largest states. Graham
Richardson is a well-paid Packer fixer who allegedly has a Swiss bank
account courtesy of the late Rene Rivkin, whereas his Melbourne
counter-part, Robert Ray, has shown no
interest in leaving Parliament to make his fortune and refuses to be
paid for things as minor as newspaper columns during election campaigns.

Then you have the commercial union leaders in Sydney. Michael Easson
used to be secretary of the NSW Labor Council but he has gone on to
make his fortune as a consultant, investor in coal mines and lobbyist
with former Macquarie Bank executive director John Caldan and former SMH banking writer Karen Maley. In the lead up to the launch of Crikey as the dotcom boom peaked in
late 1999, Easson offered to invest $50,000 for 5%, sight
unseen. I never took up the offer but he subsequently told colleagues:
“Everyone tells me Stephen Mayne is mad.” It’s hard to imagine the
late Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary John Halfpenny offering to
splash cash around on dotcom ventures.

Finally, we have the case study of Michael Costa, Easson’s successor at
the NSW Labor Council. While Victorian union leaders advocate
maximising employment in the public sector, Costa reportedly believes
that 20% of public servants in NSW could be cut and has been appointed as the
toe-cutting new finance minister to slash costs.

The idea that Leigh Hubbard, the immediate past Trades Hall Secretary
in Victoria, would become a job-slashing finance minister is just
bizarre. Is all of this a reflection of the different cultures in
Melbourne and Sydney or does it just point to the relative strength of
the Left in Victoria? The commercial culture of the pragmatic NSW Right
has certainly not made its way down to Melbourne.

If anyone has a better explanation of this phenomenon, drop us a line to [email protected]

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey