Former NSW Liberal Premier Nick Greiner reckons the federal-state
system is failing with most of the blame falling on John Howard. And
while he’s talking, the NSW government, not the toll road company, is
responsible for the Cross City Tunnel mess.

History should treat Greiner’s premiership kindly. Certainly his successors have conspired to make him look good.

Greiner remains a player in plenty of boardrooms, including
chairmanship of Bilfinger Berger Australia, parent of Baulderstone
Hornibrook which built the cursed cross city tunnel. In a timely
interview with Andrew Clark in the Saturday AFR, he lets fly at the
perception that the tunnel operator was stealing roads from the public. Greiner says:

The truth is the government is doing it. It’s not a
semantic distinction. This was a 100 per cent government decision. The
toll range was set by the government and the government said, “we will
decide this on the basis of who will offer us the most upfront money.”

So, not surprisingly, all the consortia went to a high toll because
that was going to win. The Cross City Motorway offered them $100
million and the others offered slightly less. The important point is
the government chose the criteria.

If the government said, we’re not closing anything, they would still
have got three bids. The difference would have been (that) instead of
offering $100 million upfront (the NSW Government) would have got
nothing.

So there. Clark notes the last three NSW premiers are all linked with
consortia building or operating toll roads. Macquarie has Carr, John
Fahey was made chairman of Lane Cove Tunnel two years ago and there’s
the Greiner CCT connection. (It’s only slightly stretching it to say
Neville Wran’s also involved in tolling a significant group of road
users through his Cabcharge directorship. Barry Unsworth only managed
chairing a review of NSW bus services.)

Greiner also takes aim at the federal-state system, but it’s not
clear if it’s Greiner or Clark who says the last period of significant
federal state co-operation has been largely airbrushed out of official
memory, partly because consensus politics has little appeal for the
all-conquering Howard government. Greiner:

What you now have is triplication of responsibilities. All that does
is create unnecessary public sector jobs. The more sensible thing to do
is say, “we’re going to reform the federation and make it work.” The
reason it worked in the 90s is that all of us were trying to do what was in the national interest…

We are deliberately producing a profoundly dysfunctional system of federation and we’re knowingly doing that.

Greiner for PM – if we can just airbrush out his chairing of a tobacco company.

Peter Fray

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