In any normally functioning administration, the political career of NSW Minister for Education, Industrial Relations and the Central Coast John Della Bosca would now be cactus.
But, hey, welcome to the weird, wild and wonderful world of NSW politics under Premier Morris “Mr Dilemma” Iemma.
Iemma can’t sack Della Bosca because he doesn’t have the political clout to do it. “Della” is the government’s last remaining political heavyweight, the party’s general secretary from 1990 to 1999 and the critical link man between Cabinet and Unions NSW.
And right now, “Della” is holding Iemma’s fate in his hands because he has played the key role in keeping alive negotiations between the Cabinet, the ALP organization and the unions on the planned privatization of the State’s electricity.
He has played the “good guy” to “bad guy” Michael Costa, the Treasurer and fellow upper house MP.
To sack the Industrial Relations Minister in the midst of the power sell-off diplomacy would probably trigger a backbench revolt and end any remaining hope of the enabling legislation being passed.
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So the government seems set to stumble along with an Education Minister who recently shouted at a Daily Telegraph reporter and photographer to “Get a real job, you f….g c….s”; a minister in charge of the Motor Accidents Authority who is about to lose his licence after seven speeding offences; and an Industrial Relations Minister who, along with his wife Belinda Neal, shouted and threatened staff at the Iguana’s waterfront restaurant at Gosford last Friday night. (So much for the ALP’s screaming about the unfairness of John Howard’s Work Choices!)
The two NSW MPs — Neal is the federal MP for Robertson on the central coast — whose combined salaries and allowances amount to almost half a million dollars, have denied the staff claims.
How different it was for two other Iemma Government ministers. Cessnock MP Kerry Hickey was sacked as local government minister in November 2006 after admitting just four speeding offences while Carl Scully was axed as police minister for misleading parliament which is almost a commonplace at question time with this government.
As Education Minister, Della Bosca is now in charge of imposing a 2.5 per cent wage increase on teachers and jailing parents who allow their children to become repeated truants; as Industrial Relations Minister, he will be stiff-arming all public sector unions to accept Costa’s below inflation wage limit; and as Central Coast Minister he has responsibility for building the economic and social well being of the area, which probably covers such issues as supporting the planned expansion of Iguana’s which is situated on Crown land and co-owned by family friend Ray Awadallah.
Coalition Leader Barry O’Farrell has called for an inquiry headed by a judicial figure to investigate the conflicting accounts of what happened at the Night at the Iguana’s. There is a precedent. In 1994, under intense media pressure from then Opposition leader Bob Carr, premier John Fahey appointed respected femocrat Carmel Niland as a commissioner to investigate the circumstances of the resignation of Justice Minister Terry Griffiths.
Both Fahey’s approach and her report met the standards of governance of the day. But this is 2008 and NSW is in another political dimension.