In the next few days, the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions (“Sir”) Nicholas Cowdery QC will announce what charges will be laid against which funsters who attended the notoriously ill-mannered dinner at the Iguana waterfront restaurant at Gosford on June 6.
“Iguanagate” led to the suspension of Education and Industrial Relations Minister John Della Bosca from the NSW Cabinet and to a rebuke for his wife, Federal MP Belinda Neal, from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who ordered her into anger management counselling.
The DPP is likely to clear Della Bosca of any wrongdoing in the restaurant or in the subsequent scandal over the preparation of contradictory sworn statements by the staff and the partygoers.
This will pave the way for Premier Morris Iemma to restore Della Bosca to the ministry. But what as?
His return to the education portfolio is opposed strenuously by principals and teachers on the grounds that if they had committed similar offences they would be in breach of the department’s own code of conduct and probably lose their jobs.
They point to his recent conduct — losing his driver’s licence after repeated speeding offences, swearing at photographers “Get a real job you f-cking c-nts”, misleading the parliament on his promise not to drive again and misleading the premier over the apology from Iguana staff which, it turned out, he had drafted — as sufficient grounds for him to be an inappropriate role model to head the Education Department.
Iemma is well aware of these complications and that is why he is considering a bolder strategy: he is attempting to convince Della Bosca to take on the Health portfolio.
At a stroke, Della’s move to health would solve two huge political problems for the government. It would remove the hugely unpopular Reba Meagher out of the frontline portfolio which is causing the government electoral grief almost every other day of the week and it would pre-empt the crushing criticism of the health department which is expected in the much-awaited report by the special commission of inquiry conducted by Peter Garling SC.
Iemma also has a Cabinet vacancy to fill. He lost his Environment, Climate Change and Water Minister Phil Koperberg in January and re-allocated his portfolios to other ministers without making a fresh appointment.
It means that in the wake of the all-clear for Della Bosca, Iemma can reshuffle his ministry and promote one of his dwindling ban of loyalists in a bid to stop the white-anting.
This would convey to the public that he is in charge — when most people now believe that it is Treasurer Michael Costa who runs the show — and give his government an appearance of stability as it heads for the showdown over the privatization of electricity when parliament resumes at the end of next month.
Today’s Newspoll shows that World Youth Day, the long winter recess and the Olympics have done nothing to rescue the Labor Government from the wrath of NSW voters. Its primary vote is 33 per cent (the Coalition 40), 60 per cent of voters are dissatisfied with Iemma and only 26 are satisfied. By comparison, Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell’s approval rating is 40 per cent, dissatisfied 34 per cent with more than a quarter undecided.
Stealing from Iemma’s 2006 election slogan, O’Farrell quipped today the latest poll proved one thing: “We’re heading in the right direction but more still to be done. Morris Iemma doesn’t use that mantra any more.”