By the time you read this, the NSW Legislative Council will have killed Premier Morris Iemma and Treasurer Michael Costa’s legislation to privatise the State’s electricity industry by a wide margin.

That’s provided upper house President Peter Primrose calls a division and doesn’t simply let it be decided on the voices — which would save the embarrassment of Labor MPs who support ALP policy being captured on film crossing the floor to oppose their own government.

When this morning’s Coalition joint party room meeting voted unanimously to oppose the legislation on the grounds that it did not meet their “public interest” test, the planned sell-off was a dead duck.

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The utter failure of the power sale project can be sheeted home to two people — the Premier and his Treasurer. They had a golden opportunity to persuade the NSW ALP, Unions NSW, their backbenchers and the general public to support a plan to raise billions of dollars to help repair old infrastructure and start new projects.

Instead, they behaved like old-style political bosses issuing orders, cracking the whip, shouting down opponents and threatening them. Even with the Sydney media in full throat backing the Thatcherite “solution” to the state’s energy needs, they failed to sell their message anywhere outside the city’s Central Business District.

What gives today’s parliamentary defeat a seismic quality is that Morris Iemma and Michael Costa both placed their credibility on the line for privatization. They raised it to a matter of confidence in them.

Iemma’s premiership is now in ruins: it is completely lacking in credibility, and it is difficult to know how long he can continue in the job.

If Costa had any sense of the proprieties of public life and the Westminster system, he would be submitting his resignation later today.

Costa came to parliament with the specific intention of becoming treasurer and succeeding Michael Egan. He wanted to achieve power privatization where Egan failed.

In the next few days, Iemma will announce his much-postponed reshuffle. There is some evidence he take the opportunity to dump the widely unpopular and divisive Costa and replace him with Planning Minister Frank Sartor or Education Minister John Della Bosca who is coming back from suspension if, as expected, he is cleared of any offences arising from the Iguana’s restaurant fracas on June 6?

But if he is removed from the Treasury portfolio, Costa doesn’t have the personality to accept demotion. He’d rather move to the backbench.

He became a member of the upper house on November 21, 2001, and he is entitled to his taxpayer-funded parliamentary pension after he has served seven years — that’s in 11 weeks’ time.

He’s likely to stay in parliament until he is entitled to draw down his fully indexed lifetime pension which is estimated to be around $130,000 a year, and then head to the investment banking world where his former political patron, ex-premier Bob Carr, is esconced at Macquarie Bank. Maybe Babcock & Brown could pick him up or the Fairfax board?

The end game of this political drama is yet to be played out. Costa is a goner, but what will they do with Iemma?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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