The contrast couldn’t be more stark — Prime Minister Kevin Rudd reads the riot act to Belinda Neal, the federal MP for Robertson, and orders her into anger management counseling while NSW Premier Morris Iemma asks her husband, Education Minister John Della Bosca, for a report card and then declares him innocent of any wrongdoing.
Rudd can take the carpet duster to “Typhoon” Belinda because’s he’s in charge of the federal government but Iemma is obliged to hide “Della” under the carpet because he’s not in charge of the state government.
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As much as anything else, it’s also a contrast in political cultures. Kevin from Queensland is the quintessential Mr Goody Two Shoes who didn’t see a str-pper until he was in his 40s at Scores nightclub in New York, while “Mo” from Lakemba learnt all his politics in the trenches of the NSW right alongside former senator Graham “Richo” Richardson, Della Bosca, Michael Costa, Reba Meagher, Joe Tripodi, Eric Roozendaal and upper house political fixer Eddie Obeid. They’re his crowd.
That kind of upbringing tends to blunt your sensibilities and life’s compass doesn’t function in the same qualitative way as other people’s.
What is placing even further restrictions on Iemma’s leadership is the split in the NSW Labor Party over his plan to sell off the State’s public-owned power assets.
On May 3, the ALP state conference voted against privatisation by a seven-to-one majority. The next day, Iemma defied the conference and said he was going to privatise anyway.
Since then, Iemma, Costa, the Cabinet and the majority of the Caucus have been operating in a quite unique political netherworld, unsupported by their own party (or, for that matter, the general public who oppose the sell-off by a margin of 60 or 80%, depending what poll you believe).
What’s keeping the government afloat? A curious and unsupportable belief that the Parliamentary Labor Party, or Caucus, reigns supreme over the authority of the party’s annual conference and that the Liberal Party and the National Party will save the day by voting for the privatisation legislation next week.
How extraordinary, that a so-called Labor Government, having lost the support of its own party, must turn to the Tories to rescue it.
It’s little wonder Iemma is refusing to take disciplinary action against Della Bosca, who is also the government’s leader in the upper house where the enabling bill faces its toughest test. Every vote counts, and the hopelessly enfeebled Iemma can’t/won’t touch him.
On current plans, the Legislative Assembly vote on the power sell-off will be held in the middle of next week. The government will wait until after newspaper deadlines to call the vote, and the electricity utilities will be taken from public ownership by thieves in the night.
Curiously, two MPs from vastly different ends of the political spectrum will be in the “No” lobby together: left-wing Coogee Labor MP Paul Pearce, the former mayor of Waverley, and Vaucluse Liberal MP Peter Debnam, the former Opposition leader who last month resigned from the shadow front bench over the Coalition’s conditional pro-privatisation stance.
The question is whether Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell and Nationals leader Andrew Stoner will be with them or sitting on the government side of the house with Iemma, Meagher, Tripodi, Wollongong MP Noreen Hay and the rest. Hope the cameras are in place to record that one!