The NSW Labor Government is in such dire straits that no single individual can save it. But its latest recruit, Graeme Wedderburn, can and will make a difference.
Premier Nathan Rees has persuaded Wedderburn to quit the private sector and come back to his former job at Governor Macquarie Tower as his Chief of Staff.
This was the position he occupied until Premier Bob Carr’s resignation on 27 July, 2005. In his departing speech, Carr thanked his team saying they were “the best political staff in Australia” and added:
Through my chief of staff, Graeme Wedderburn, who’s been with me from the first days in Opposition to these last days in government, I thank and honour them, as I do Amanda Lampe, Walt Secord and every last one of them.
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When Carr’s successor, Premier Morris Iemma, was under political siege from the NSW Labor Party, the unions and the media, he attempted to woo Wedderburn back into service. But the master mediator, networker and problem-solver said “no”.
In a highly significant victory for Rees, he has enticed Wedderburn to become his chief lieutenant with the promise of a Senate spot or a federal seat down the track.
At a stroke, Rees has bolstered his premiership by recruiting a public servant of stellar credentials and he has put paid to the asinine media rubbish about backbench threats to his leadership.
In the Carr era, Wedderburn was known as the “go to” person in the government. When Carr was off reading books, writing reviews, watching films and DVDs and conducting interviews for his personal diaries, Wedderburn ran the show.
He had a division of labor with Col Gellatly, Director-General of the Premier’s Department: Col looked after the public service, Graeme handled the politics.
A veteran of the Wran, Unsworth and Carr years, media minder Fred Smidt told Crikey:
Graeme’s best asset is his ability to get along with people. Any minister or staffer with a problem went to him and he sorted it out.
He related to people and people related to him. He got the job done and he took people along with him.
But no one should take him for a mug — he can be very tough when the need arises.
Wedderburn’s return also marks another stage in the demise of the factional chieftains Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid. As reported by Crikey last week, these two lamentable figures now have just two votes in the Labor caucus — their own. Wedderburn can’t stand either of them nor can Rees and neither can the two newly chosen Cabinet ministers, John Robertson and Steve Whan.
Remarks allegedly made by Tripodi led to the Orange Grove scandal and two official inquiries — one by the Independent Commission Against Corruption and another by the NSW upper house. Carr, Wedderburn, Westfield supremo Frank Lowy, ministers and senior public servants were eventually all cleared of any wrongdoing, but not before they were dragged into the media spotlight.
It’s hard to believe that Wedderburn has forgotten that dreadful chapter in his career or forgiven.