As far as I am concerned, the late NSW Premier Sir Robert Askin (1965-1974) was a bounder and a crook. That said, it is fraudulent of the NSW Labor Party to insist repeatedly that he led a government that did nothing more than shuffle brown paper bags full of SP money.

Come on down Wal Fife. He served in the NSW Legislative Assembly as the Liberal MP for Wagga Wagga from 1957 to 1975 and then became federal MP for Farrer, then Hume, in the House of Representatives from 1975 to 1993.

At 80, Fife has privately published his memoirs, A Country Liberal, in which he devotes a whole chapter to “Reforms and Infrastructure under Askin”.

Fife, who was a minister in the Askin and Fraser Governments, records that Askin’s most memorable project was the completion of the Sydney Opera House.

He continues:

But as well as this icon there is a multiplicity of other projects, including the Eastern Suburbs railway, Westmead Hospital, Liddell power station, Blowering Dam and five other water storages.

There were also a massive education building program to facilitate the beginning of the Wyndham scheme and the creation of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Two of the major legislation reforms were the establishment of the permanent Law Reform Commission and the re-writing of the 1906 Mining Act to incorporate the amendments that had been made over the decades and to reflect the new concerns with, among other things, environmental protection.

Fife goes on to mention that the Askin Government restored the right of postal voting which had been outlawed by a previous Labor Government, commenced the building of a new Parliament House in Macquarie Street, brought harbour foreshore land at Neutral Bay, Manly and Balmoral into public ownership, completed four power stations, built the Whittingham to Mount Thorley railway in the Upper Hunter and upgraded the line from Parkes to Broken Hill.

Seven new ferries were added to the Sydney Harbour fleet — Cutler, McKell, Wakehurst, Northcott, Woodward, Street and Herron which compared with only one additional ferry — Kooleen — during the 34 previous years of Labor rule.

Fife writes that the Askin Government introduced the compulsory wearing of seat belts in 1971 and encouraged the Department of Motor Transport to open regional offices in Armidale, Dubbo, Newcastle, Wagga Wagga and Wollongong.

Some 200 new schools were built in the Askin era and Fife boasts: “We were building three new classrooms somewhere in NSW for every day of the year.”

As for water infrastructure, Fife writes:

The projects completed by the Askin Government included Carcoar Dam in the Lachlan Valley, Toonumbar Dam in the Richmond, Lostock Dam on the Paterson, Pindari Dam in the Severn, the major Copeton Dam on the Gwydir River, the Wyangala Dam on the Lachlan River and the Burrendong Dam on the Macquarie.

While Askin was undoubtedly a right-wing, populist rogue, his record isn’t as shameful as Labor’s professional historians make out. Indeed, alongside the past 14 years of Labor misrule, Sir Bob seems to have lived up to his 1965 election slogan, “With Askin you’ll get action.”

Peter Fray

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