Next Sunday morning, NSW winds its clocks back an hour to mark the end of daylight saving. It will mean a sleep-in for most people in the state.

And at least 201 NSW citizens will be sleeping more soundly after the previous night’s election results, they being Police Commissioner Ken Moroney, and the 200 men of Middle Eastern appearance whom he would have had to charge with “anything” if Peter Debnam had become Premier.

But two men will get to sleep the sound sleep of the vindicated: Premier Morris Iemma and ALP State Secretary Mark Arbib. Never in the annals of political history has so much been accomplished by so few with so little.

This is a rotten, rancid government which should have been tossed out on its ear, but instead will be returned with a slender but sufficient majority.

It will be a resounding victory for Iemma and his modest campaign. To paraphrase Churchill, Morris is a modest man with much to be modest about.

But he will have earned his right to put his own stamp on the next term. (He won’t get the fabled “free hand” – no-one gets that in the ALP, absolutely no-one!)

Make no mistake, Morris will have the opportunity to convert the Iemma Administration into the Iemma Government. Iemma is probably looking at eight years of government, not four, if the Liberals engage in their usual round of post-rout recriminations.

There’ll be the usual argy bargy for ministries, but Iemma will be turning his particular attention to what he sees as the engine room for his next term.

After nearly 20 years as separate units, it is expected that he will combine the Premier’s Department and the Cabinet Office into a single super-department. The transport chaos on the night of the Queen Mary and QE2 berthing in Sydney Harbour only confirmed for Iemma the wisdom of the plans he has been musing over for implementation upon re-election.

Iemma has never been caught up in the mystique ascribed to the separation of the two units by Greiner and Carr before him, and he certainly feels that he was not as ably served as his immediate predecessor by the now departed Cabinet Office supremo Roger Wilkins and the soon to be departing Premier’s chief, Col Gellatly. In particular, Iemma feels Gellatly’s time has passed, and regeneration of the Government’s powerhouse is critical and urgent.

In their place to head the mega-department, Iemma will appoint the two soon to be most powerful women in New South Wales: Robyn Kruk, presently head of NSW Health, and Leigh Sanderson, currently Deputy Director-General of The Cabinet Office. Iemma has the highest regard for these two, having worked with Kruk when he was Minister for Health, and with Sanderson in his time as Premier.

Kruk is one of the great survivors of the NSW bureaucracy. Famously displaced when she incurred the wrath of then Environment Minister Pam Allan, she went to the Premier’s Department where she played a useful if limited role under Gellatly. However it is her period as NSW Health head that sees her in line to head the NSW public service. That health administration has been pretty much a neutral issue in this election is down to Kruk’s abilities and the stewardship of Iemma as Health Minister, and his successor, John Hatzistergos (who will be the next Attorney-General – certainly if he has his way).

The NSW public sector is in for interesting times under a Kruk regime. A formidable intellect and manager, she has a manner that can only be described as direct. I met her once and after she shook my hand (my bones knitted after a few weeks), in a voice which I can only liken to whiskey poured over gravel she proceeded to offer me a pithy (and accurate) summation of my shortcomings.

Her putative deputy, Sanderson, is also possessed of a razor sharp mind in a unit which does not lack for them. In her mid-30s, a product of Sydney’s renowned Fort Street High School (alma mater to, among others, Garfield Barwick and Doc Evatt), she topped the NSW HSC in 1988 and went on to a prize laden study of political economy and law at Sydney University.

Iemma has described her as one of the state’s most outstanding public servants, after she took the lead chair for NSW in the James Hardie asbestos fund negotiations. He used his nomination for the International Women’s Day “Woman of the Year” (traditionally used by MPs to single out local worthies) to further recognise Sanderson’s role.

These two will be the key figures (along with Deputy Premier John Watkins) in the next Iemma government, and will be charged with putting together the framework for, among other things, the massive investment in public infrastructure that Iemma sees as critical to further entrenching Labor in government. They will be women to watch.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey