The great media brouhaha over the appointment of former Carr minister Brian Langton to the chairmanship of Sydney Ferries is misplaced.

Langton, a former transport minister in the 1990s, is something of a specialist on transport matters. He spent his days in Opposition during the Coalition governments of Nick Greiner and John Fahey (1988 to 1995) brushing up his credentials to take ministerial responsibility for trains, buses and ferries — unlike some of the utterly hopeless individuals who have held the portfolio before and since.

The media attack on Langton’s elevation to the chair of Sydney Ferries after 10 years in the political wilderness is based on an adverse finding made against him by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in 1998.

The substance of the finding was that Langton had given his air vouchers to other MPs who used them to visit parts of regional NSW drumming up support for the Carr Government.

The practice of ministers slipping their travel warrants to battling backbenchers wasn’t new: lots of MPs had been doing it, from all sides of the house.

The Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery took one look at the ICAC brief and decided that there were no grounds for prosecuting Langton. He was a political scapegoat for a practice that was dumb and self-serving.

The real problem with Langton’s appointment to Sydney Ferries is neither his qualifications nor his brush with the ICAC, it is the fact that the Iemma Government has become a cottage industry for its own.

As noted before, this isn’t a government in the strict sense, it is a clique. It trusts no-one outside its own circle and that is why job after job goes to members of the NSW ALP and its devotees.

Only last week another former party stalwart, Alan Kirkland, was appointed head of the NSW Legal Aid Commission. Now, virtually every legal and quasi-legal body in NSW has a safe pair of hands at the helm.

Ditto the Premier’s Department, the Health Department, the Education Department, the Department of Community Services, and the list goes on.

NSW is being governed by a narrowly cloned collection of clique members, their devout allies and friends. No, it isn’t Jakarta or Manila in the 1980s, it’s Harbour City in late autumn. Dontcha love it!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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