Premier Rees’s decision to take the arts portfolio is more than symbolic. With an honours degree in English Literature from Sydney University (any editor in the Sydney media got one of those?), Rees is anxious to restore the arts to a place of state importance and significance.

At his very first press conference as premier in 2005, Morris Iemma said he was more likely to watch football than go to the opera, encouraging a rush by the ALP’s philistines to slash arts spending and withdraw from arts sponsorship.

Almost unbelievably, one of Iemma’s principal advisers seized the opportunity to change the name of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, started by Neville Wran in 1979, to the NSW Literary Awards to save the premier from the political embarrassment of being associated with weirdos who read books. At the 11th hour, the change was aborted.

Still, at the state election in March 2006, Iemma received the stamp of approval from Sydney’s so-called “public intellectuals” who saw nothing wrong with their hero’s arts marginalisation which climaxed with his public rubbishing of the photographic works of Bill Henson and the police raids and arts seizures that followed.

The Australian’s Caroline Overington takes the award for the dumbest coverage of the dramatic demise of Premier Iemma and the emergence of Rees as the 15th Labor premier in NSW since federation.

She breathlessly (that’s how she writes) told readers:

The new Premier of NSW is an extreme left-wing union organiser and former garbo, whose clearest and most traumatic childhood memory is the sacking of the Whitlam government.

If you work in The Oz’s political menagerie alongside the likes of Greg Sheridan and Janet Albrechtson, perhaps you start to believe that anyone who worked as a garbage collector to pay for their university education and then worked for a trade union is “an extreme left winger”.

History records that NSW premiers have included three boilermakers (Jim McGowen, John Storey and Bill McKell — later the Governor-General), a fitter (Joe Cahill) and a labourer and shearer (Bob Heffron). Could someone pass the smelling salts to Ms Overington.

Despite intense lobbying by powerbroker Eddie “The Sheik” Obeid and the Urban Taskforce, the developers’ lobby group run by his former chief of staff Aaron Gadiel, Ian Macdonald has been denied the planning ministry, the portfolio now known in ALP circles as the “crown jewels”.

Much to his chagrin, “Macca” remains at Primary Industries while new Planning Minister is the right-wing’s Kristina Keanelly, whose husband Ben Keneally is the Executive Director of the NSW Premier’s Delivery Unit as well as being the nephew of the novelist Tom Keneally.

Macdonald’s billowing ego has been hammered in recent weeks. He has lost his power base in the “hard left” faction and he is scorned by the right which he faithfully served during the power privatisation fiasco. Moves are afoot to tip him out of the upper House where he was been camped for the past 20 years.

For backbenchers, Steve Whan, MP for Monaro, and Paul McLeay, MP for Heathcote, hell hath no fury after being overlooked for positions in Premier Nathan Rees’s first Cabinet. Both are sons of former federal MPs — McLeay’s father was “leaping Leo” McLeay, MP for the Sydney seat of Watson from 1979 until 2004, and Whan’s father was Bob Whan, MP for Eden Monaro during the Whitlam years, 1972-75.

For the time being, their dynastic ambitions are on hold. While their supporters are plotting all manner of revenge, the MPs themselves might consider applying the new rules for passage into the Cabinet — hard work, intelligence and courage — otherwise they might face career-altering pre-selections between now and the state election in March 2011.

Peter Fray

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