Just when you thought the media’s silly season was over, the Sydney Daily Telegraph rises to the occasion with “SHARK PLAGUE”* on Tuesday and “SECRET PLAN TO DUMP REES” today.

The Rees coup plot shock horror is billed as an “exclusive” and it’s likely to stay that way. No one with any knowledge of state politics will touch it with a barge pole.

The three ministerial plotters are listed as Health Minister John Della Bosca, Police Minister Tony Kelly and Minister for Juvenile Justice, Volunteering and Youth Graham West — aka Larry, Curly and Mo.

According to The Terror, they are so ingenious they are considering replacing Rees with American-born Kristina Keneally, the Planning Minister whose career has blossomed with help from Ports Minister Joe Tripodi and backroom dealmaker Eddie “The Sheikh” Obeid.

“Mr Keneally has visited the party’s image consultants in Sussex Street recently where well-placed sources have confirmed she was taking elocution lessons to soften her American accent,” the paper reported breathlessly.

Would they be the same image consultants who have been in charge of upper house MP Amanda Fazio’s account for the past few years?

While The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian this week named John Robertson, the former boss of Unions NSW, to succeed Rees by the end of the year, The Terror has nominated Frank Sartor as the leader-in-waiting. (“REVEALED: Ministers push for Sartor as Premier”)

While I outed Sartor as the dark horse in any succession struggle in Crikey yesterday (“John Robertson as NSW Premier won’t happen”, Item 12), I was careful to point out that re-imaging the former planning minister as premiership material would be a mammoth task.

For every friend he made in 11 years as Sydney Lord Mayor and five years as a Cabinet minister, Sartor effortlessly made 1000 enemies.

In any case, Sartor is not seeking the premiership at this point in time. He is on the backbench after being dropped from the Cabinet by Rees who prefers team players to those who inadvertently create division and confrontation.

He is biding his time and playing a waiting game. Sartor does not qualify for the golden parliamentary pension until 2010, when he will have served seven years. With the pension in his pocket and the federal election out of the way, Sartor will then decide his future:

  1. Whether to restand in Rockdale (not his preferred option — the $124,000-a-year backbencher wants to get into the corporate world as soon as possible to start making some real money);
  2. Accept an appeal from the right faction to replace Rees, if the polls are stubbornly at creek bed level, and stage a 12-month campaign to rescue Labor from utter obliteration at the election on 26 March, 2011.

*PS: The Macquarie dictionary meaning of plague is: “an epidemic disease of high mortality, a pestilence e.g. Black Death, The Great Plague of London.” Sharks not mentioned.

Peter Fray

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