Aug 31, 2009

Nelson salutes, Howard on rights and the mess of NSW

Mungo MacCallum discusses Brendan Nelson's departure, John Howard's shameless return to his soap box, and Nathan Rees' attempts to avoid the Obeid and Tripodi kiss of death.

Mungo MacCallum

Canberra Press Gallery legend

Brendan Nelson is a decent, intelligent, moderate and generally rational politician, so his departure from Parliament is a loss to the Liberal Party, which appears increasingly lacking in such qualities. Nelson did a reasonable job as the patsy who had to pick up the pieces when Peter Costello decided the job was too much like hard work, and would probably have done a better one if he had not been constantly and viciously white-anted by Malcolm Turnbull, who made it clear from the start that he believed the leadership was his by divine right. Nelson had intended to remain unobtrusively on the back bench until the next election, but after enduring life under Turnbull for almost a year he decided enough was enough. However, before leaving he reverted to his previous incarnation as medical practitioner and gave Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald a free diagnosis of his supplanter which deserves wider circulation. Turnbull, reported the doctor, suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a complaint defined by "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration and a lack of empathy". There follows a list of more or less unpleasant symptoms culminating in "arrogant, haughty behaviour or attitudes". Nelson elaborated from his own experience: "At first I though he was demanding, emotional and narcissistic, using his wealth and charm for seduction and always with a sinister threat just below the surface ... most of the people who supported him (in the leadership ballot) voted for him to get rid of him." In other words they assumed he would crash and burn, and they may yet be right. Nelson himself, it must be said, has left little in the way of a political legacy. He supported Pauline Hanson; as education minister he believed the problems of under-funded state schools could be solved with the provision of a flag pole and a poster of Simpson’s donkey; as defence minister he was one of an ineffectual procession ritually bastardised by the military brass; and as opposition leader he manifestly failed to pull the coalition together into anything resembling an alternative government. Yet for all his failings he had one thing going for him: he was not Malcolm Turnbull. And there are many in his own party who already miss him. And speaking of past leaders ... John Howard bobbed back up in the bowl last week to give us a bit of advice on, of all things, human rights. Truly the man has no shame. The Prime Minister whose government incarcerated innocent children behind razor wire until they literally went mad and abandoned its own citizens to illegal imprisonment and torture by a foreign power now warns us that judges and lawyers should not be allowed to tamper with decisions made by politicians elected by "ordinary" people. Any attempt to change our unsurpassable current arrangements would represent the final triumph of elitism and be an abrogation of the very idea of the sovereignty of the people. This is presumably what has happened in just about every other democracy on earth, where bills of rights are incorporated in the legal system or in many cases in the constitution. The model most often proposed for Australia would be comparatively mild: the bill would not have the force of law and the most judges could do would be to advise that apparent breaches had occurred. The politicians would retain the power to act or not as they saw fit. But even that is too much for Honest John, fearless defender of the common man (and of the monarchy, but we’ll let that go for the present). Australia must stand alone, a bulwark against the creeping tide of international enhancement of liberty. He knows. Trust him. And finally, a rare foray into state politics. The New South Wales Premier Nathan Rees, the latest in a long line of ring-ins, is apparently also headed for the tip as the godfathers of New South Wales Labor search vainly for someone -- anyone -- who can con the voters into not delivering too humiliating a thrashing in 2011. A win, of course, appears out of the question, but it would be nice to save a few seats as the basis for some sort of regrouping for next time around. The problem is that it is not actually the leader who is the obstacle. Rees and his predecessor, Morris Iemma, are not exactly charisma machines, but both are presentable enough and, with a modicum of unified support, could have made as good a fist of it as anyone. It is the whole party that is well and truly on the nose after far too long in government and it is the party, not the leader, the electorate will punish on due course. But if the public loathing had to be more precisely focused, the target would be not Rees, but the factional bosses and in particular the gruesome twosome of Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi. Rightly or wrongly these two are perceived as personifying everything that is wrong with the government: the arrogance, the thuggery, the croneyism, the lack of accountability, the manic desire for power and spoils of office, the unprincipled imperative of winning at any cost, whatever it takes. Obeid and Tripodi have developed their own version of King Midas’ curse: everything they touch turns to excrement. But it is believed, at least in the party and in the media, that they are still the men; they cannot be challenged or crossed. So we have the paradox: no one can become leader without their patronage, but their patronage makes the leader unelectable. It happened to Rees last week: Obeid denied he had withdrawn his support from the premier. The kiss of death. Rees will now sink still further in the polls and Obeid and Tripodi will have to find another protégé, another victim. Their political euthanasia is long overdue.

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5 thoughts on “Nelson salutes, Howard on rights and the mess of NSW

  1. Liz45

    The less said about Howard the better! In fact, I agree with all that Mungo has said about his govts and him. I just change channels instantly when he appears now. He really spoils my evening meal – he’s a contemptible person! Gone and good riddance to him! I only wish his thick hide could somehow lead us to an even better treatment for burns victims – he has no shame!

    Almost every other day there’s another ‘happening’ in NSW, that just leaves me shaking my head. Last week(one of them?) was the news about highly qualified nursing people being given the ‘chop’ and in their place, less qualified, less experienced unregistered nurses???Then, it was revealed, that the Rudd Govt’s quest for more qualified nurses to go back to their profession had not reached its target?? By a long way it seems? Now people could possibly understand why I was left shaking my head? What on earth is going on? We’ve had the horror stories of women having miscarriages in emergency waiting room toilets, people dying etc, overcrowding in A & E departments – the need for highly qualified practitioner nurses to relieve the long queues??I’m utterly confused!

    If the NSW govt is broke Nathan or John or anybody??? – just have the guts to say so! What on earth would be the reason to cut back on highly qualified, skilled and experienced nurses, when the population is growing; technology is more sophisticated; the reasons for ambulances queueing up is lack of beds, too many people, not enough ‘hands’ etc, if it’s not lack of money? Hospitals getting gloves and other basics from the local vet hospital???Patients not getting meat as the butcher hasn’t been paid???WHAT!!!(these are just a few of the gob smacking events this year?)A supposed new hospital opened in a growing area(good stuff I hear you say?) with less beds than the old one??A hospital opened and the operating theatres are too small? How could this happen? Who’s been sacked over this? Ferries, public transport? Let’s not start on education and people with disabilities??

    I’m not a conservative voter, and remember the past all to vividly of what they don’t do when in government(for us ordinary people, that is) but let the Greens get in to Parliament, or a mixture or just some competent people who give a damn! Get this lot out of the way! They’re more interested in shoring up their future pension entitlements than caring or governing for the people of NSW. Funny how they always find the money for their incomes, lerks and perks, the dining room, the wine list, and increasing their electoral allowances, or having meetings with developers or ????

    I’d like all the media outlets to refuse to cover any stories about leadership, or who’s on whose side, or who will vote this way or that in Caucus! I DON’T GIVE A TOSS! OK!
    That includes the Libs/Nationals too! Not interested, don’t care! ENOUGH!

  2. Alex Romanoff

    Congratulations to Mungo for his metaphor for John Howard’s unwelcome reappearances. It is one I share, and for some time now I have found myself referring to those lightweight turds that keep bobbing up in the toilet no matter how often they are flushed as “John Howards”. Mungo may wish to journalistically explore another aspect of the man that I’m surprised has not been done during his far-too-long public life, and that is the extraordinary similarity of his political persona to that of Richard Nixon. Both should never have been conceived, let alone born.

  3. Tom McLoughlin

    In all of this commentary I am guided by this: The environmental and civil rights agenda in NSW did best by far when there was a minority Coalition Govt in power under first Greiner and then Fahey 1989 to 1995. Not by those governments as such but by Parliament as a whole.

    I could give a whole range of policy areas – forest protection momentum generated in this period without the Carr sell off downside of an even bigger area to big corporates.

    Cross bench charter of reform.

    ICAC got’s it mandate.

    Momentum for Wood Police royal commission.

    Some of this spilled over to new Carr Govt when it still had it’s moral compass and a thin majority to keep it honest. But the political capital all came out of the earlier dynamic.

    That’s the best case scenario for NSW again probably.

  4. AR

    Rather an incompetent Independent than a machine hack of either persuasion (assuming that anyone can pout a cig. paper between them). NSW showed that a good Independent, Ted Mack, Peter McDonald, the various by-election blow ins who became power brokers.
    The poltical parties, in the first & final analysis are, legally, merely private clubs – they have no standing in the Federal Constitution (and on some readings are prohibited – i remember a constitutional committee wayyyy back in the Hawke years when someone did sterling work on explaining the intricacies – name of … Garrett I think, wonder what ever happened to him?).
    So why do we,the People, vote for them? Thje old anarchists had a nasty cartoon of the spiral pyramid which asked the same question. Plus ca bloody change.

  5. Sean

    hear, hear, liz45 (et al.)

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