The NSW Government has lost its infrastructure tsar David Richmond. He’s walked out of the $300,000-a-year job as NSW Coordinator General after just 18 months.

He was appointed to the position on Day One after Morris Iemma’s election victory in March 2007. It was a hugely symbolic gesture meant to bring down the curtain on the laughable “Bob the Builder” era of Premier Bob Carr during which infrastructure renewal came to a halt.

In the wake of the Cross City Tunnel debacle, Professor Richmond AO was given the responsibility of ushering in a dynamic building program not seen since the 2000 Olympics or the construction of Persepolis in 500 BC.

But true to his Machiavellian form, while Iemma made Richmond his infrastructure boss, he gave the infrastructure portfolio to his Treasurer Michael Costa. It immediately placed the two old rivals at loggerheads and meant that little or nothing was done.

The two men had clashed earlier when Costa was Transport Minister and Richmond was chairman of the State Rail Authority. Richmond left the SRA soon after.

With Iemma and Costa both out of the way, most senior bureaucrats thought that Richmond would open his shoulders and step up to the crease and fulfil his promise as “Mr Fixit”, a title earned as the grand architect of the Olympic building program.

But he has taken out his revenge of Premier Nathan Rees for abandoning the Metro rail link between the city and north-west Sydney and giving the go-ahead for a Super V8 car rally at Sydney Olympic Park for the next five years.

Richmond was the former chairman of the Sydney Olympic Park Authority (SOPA) and he regards the venue as almost sacred ground. He is intellectually, socially and sentimentally attached to the park and views rally racing as a desecration of the site.

Next to resign may well by Michael Knight, SOPA’s new chairman. As the former Olympics Minister and boss of the Sydney Olympics organising committee, SOCOG, Knight has a passionate investment in the Homebush venue and won’t hang around to watch trees uprooted and streets turned into race tracks for the enjoyment of petrolheads, the Murdoch tabloids and Kerry Stokes’s Seven Network.

While Richmond’s Olympic years were highly productive and earned him widespread praise, his second incarnation as Coordinator-General has failure written all over it.

In the bureaucratic mud-wrestling with Costa he was done like a dinner. He didn’t receive the support that he deserved from Iemma and he was being undermined constantly by other Cabinet ministers like Ian Macdonald.

As Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins recently observed: “When the going gets tough, economists go very quiet.” And so do infrastructure tsars who have failed to deliver.

Peter Fray

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