They say victory has a thousand parents
and defeat is an orphan. And so it will be with the great Snowy Hydro
privatisation backflip as a cacophany of politicians, ginger groups,
media types, activists, celebrities and engineers put up their hand to
claim credit for John Howard’s astonishing backflip after ten years of
relentless campaigning for across-the-board privatisation.

The
NSW Greens and Bob Brown are already claiming credit, but a bitterly
disappointed John Brumby told ABC Victoria this morning that Sydney
shock jock Alan Jones had played a major role – “Alan Jones says it’s a
bad idea so the Prime Minister thinks it’s a bad idea,” he told ABC
Radio. The Parrot got aboard the anti-privatisation wagon over the past
month and helped whip up a frenzy, albeit not a drunken mob like in
Cronulla, so his reputation for political king-making will only be
further entrenched by this episode.

John Howard declared that he
was surprised by the groundswell of opposition which was certainly
kicked along yesterday by the open letter from 56 prominent Australian
including Malcolm Fraser and Cate Blanchett, who will certainly be
invited to any “victory” party that is held in Cooma.

Various
independent politicians are also being mentioned in dispatches. For
instance, the Federal triumvirate of Bob Katter, Tony Windsor and Peter
Andren met with the PM for over an hour on Wednesday and were always
trying to roll the whole deal, rather than just limit foreign
investment.

Then there is the original Snowy independent,
Victoria’s Craig Ingram, who was receiving much popular support for his
High Court challenge and will probably retain his seat of Gippsland
East at this year’s state election without even going to preferences
after all the publicity his anti-privatisation campaign has received.
Indeed, Ingram will probably be able to successfully back an
independent into the fifth spot in the newly created upper house region
of Eastern Victoria, a bit like the way Nick Xenophon’s running mate
got elected in South Australia earlier this year.

As a close
confidant of the PM, NSW Senator Bill Heffernan will also rank right
up there given his strident commentary and this is where the
motivations of the players get interesting. Now that the NSW Right –
led by Heffernan and Howard – have absolute control of the NSW Liberal
Party they would be acutely aware of the political boost the whole saga
has given Peter Debnam. There are now serious questions over Morris
Iemma’s future as he looks more and more like Barrie Unsworth as each
day passes and most NSW voters believe that Labor has stuffed the
state’s finances.

The challenge now for the Heffernan-Howard
Right is to preselect quality candidates to generate the 10% swing
needed to unseat Labor. Pru Goward is the first of many being promised
by an energised and triumphant group. However, NSW voters remain
underwhelmed by the depleted opposition so it could yet be a motley
crew of independents, led by the likes of Wendy Harmer, who end up
being the biggest political beneficiaries of this extraordinary saga.

The
Liberal Member for Eden-Monaro, Gary Nairn, is perhaps the most
relieved politician today because he would almost certainly have lost
his seat to a Snowy-linked independent at next year’s federal election.

Peter Fray

A lot can happen in 3 months.

3 months is a long time in 2020. Join us to make sense of it all.

Get you first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12. Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

12 weeks for $12