The morphing of former NSW Planning Minister Frank Sartor from the best mate of the developers to the hero of environmental activists is in full swing.

Since being dropped from the Cabinet by Premier Nathan Rees last September, Sartor, MP for Rockdale in southern Sydney, has been on a charm offensive and busily re-inventing himself.

Last week he was in the Tweed Shire on the NSW-Queensland border meeting Hastings Village Progress Association and the Sustainable Villages Alliance to discuss their long-running campaign against inappropriate development in the beachfront community.

He has other appointments with community groups in Newcastle and on the South Coast in the coming days.

Sartor, the former Sydney Lord Mayor and ex-independent, has caught media attention with a new campaign to reform coastal development legislation, a burning issue among NSW residents who don’t want their coastline defiled and turned into mini-Gold Coasts.

He told the Tweed Daily News: “There is a need for new State environmental planning laws that cover the whole coastal area. These laws should focus on the whole coastal areas — from the dunes right back to the estuaries — and should take into account the impacts of climate change, population growth and other development.

“What is needed is State planning legislation that is clear, unambiguous and strong. I think the community would accept that there is need for appropriate development if there is greater consultation and transparency, from the developer and the government, and they feel they are part of the process.”

But SartorMark II hasn’t won everybody over. Many environmental activists still recall his high-profile involvement with major developments at Pitt Town, Catherine Hill Bay, Sandon Point, Anvil Hill Mine and the $2 billion Kurnell desalination plant, just to name a few.

However, Sartor has become the premier-in-waiting for The Murdoch press — The Daily Telegraph and The Australian — and Fairfax Media — The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald. Others in the cheer squad are former Prime Minister Paul Keating, former premiers Bob Carr and Morris Iemma and former Olympics Minister Michael Knight.

The success of the Sartor push is predicated upon Nathan Rees imploding in the polls and the Caucus being spooked into yet another premiership change before the state election in March 2011.

Unhappily for the conspirators, yesterday’s Newspoll showed an improvement, albeit a small one, for Rees. In January and February, Labor’s primary vote jumped four points to 30 per cent while the Coalition dropped one point to 42 per cent.

A total of 37 per cent of voters are satisfied with Rees’s performance and 39 per cent are satisfied with the performance of Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell.

When Newspoll asked the question: Who do you think would make the better premier? 34 per cent said Rees and 29 per cent said O’Farrell.

In just seven months in the job, Rees has managed to outpoll O’Farrell as preferred premier which leads to the conclusion that Rees is cutting through while O’Farrell isn’t.

As Rees improves his game, his premiership will become safer and caucus will batten down the hatches for the election. The sound you can hear in the background is the regime change fanatics from News Ltd and Fairfax Media grinding their teeth in fury.

Peter Fray

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