NSW Premier Morris Iemma has been dumped, Treasurer Michael Costa has been sacked and Deputy Premier and Transport Minister John Watkins has resigned.

It has been one of the most tumultuous 72 hours in NSW political history.

As we go to press, the full caucus of the NSW Parliamentary Labor Party is about to meet to elect a new premier — Water Minister Nathan Rees, the 40-year-old newcomer and MP for Toongabbie in western Sydney, or Carmel Tebbutt, the former education minister and wife of the federal transport and infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese.

The catalyst for these dramatic changes has been the failed power privatization push by Iemma and Costa. They dismissed the ALP conference’s vote against privatization and soldiered on to the cheers of the Sydney media, led by The Sydney Morning Herald.

In the process, they created a deep split between the government and the NSW ALP, inflamed tensions between ministers and the backbench and created an environment of simmering rivalries.

In an 11th hour move to save his premiership, Iemma decided overnight to sack Costa, his attack dog during the sell-off misadventure. He acceded to demands by both right, left and centre factions to dump the highly unpopular Costa in the hope that it would lead to a stay of his own execution.

But when the right-wing Centre Unity MPs gathered at State Parliament this morning, they were in no mood to forgive Iemma for his role in the privatization debacle or accept the Cabinet changes he wanted.

By the end, the premier had lost the confidence of his own party, a majority of his ministers and backbenchers, the business community, the unions and the media.

George Bernard Shaw once said: “I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.”

With that in mind, I am re-producing three quotations from recent Crikey articles on the longest running farce in NSW, the Iemma Government:

On July 31, in “One man standing in race to replace Iemma“, I wrote:

Meanwhile, the idea that Watkins may yet be the party’s white knight beggars belief.

His once buoyant popularity has collapsed to the point where he is electorally unsaleable as the next premier. What’s more, he will be flat out holding his marginal Ryde electorate at the state election in 2011 and Liberal head office has already flagged it as a “possible win”.

Watkins’ position is so desperate he is likely to quit politics in the next 12 months to find a new career”

Last week, on August 28, under the headline “NSW power privatization dead: any life in Iemma?“, I wrote:

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

AND yesterday, September 4, under the headline, “It’s obvious: Premier Iemma must sack Costa“, I wrote:

If NSW Premier Morris Iemma is fair dinkum about restoring some credibility and cohesion to his dysfunctional government, then tomorrow’s Cabinet reshuffle is a no-brainer — he will sack his Treasurer Michael Costa who has been the chief architect of the administration’s political misfortunes.

Costa bears almost sole responsibility for driving out Deputy Premier, Transport Minister and Finance Minister John Watkins who resigned yesterday pleading “physical and emotional strain” — a medical term for being in the same room too often with Costa.

And so it has come to pass. Iemma, Costa and Watkins are all gone and the Coalition’s Barry O’Farrell is licking his lips.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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