The quivering upper lip, the voice cracking, Joseph Guerino Tripodi resigned yesterday as a NSW minister. Invoking his Italian migrant parents, as he so often does to authenticate his working class image, it was almost possible, but not quite, to feel for Tripodi.
But then, reflect on the reality of Tripodi’s travails.
Many politicians cry publicly: Bob Hawke over his daughter’s heroin addiction; Kim Beazley as he reflected on the suffering of the stolen generation of indigenous Australians. But Tripodi was brought to the brink of tears by the loss of his high-paying, influence peddling job. The smoke and mirrors of his power was finally exposed.
The Premier, Nathan Rees, freshly empowered by the Annual Conference to appoint his own ministry, demanded and received Tripodi’s resignation.
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Tripodi’s power never rested on his charisma or ability to marshal a convincing argument, but on an alliance with successive head office apparatchiks — Eric Roozendaal, Mark Arbib and Karl Bitar, and the sponsorship of the multimillionaire Edward Moses Obeid.
His rhetoric, including his resignation speech, always invoked the prototype of the poor western Sydney immigrant boy done good against the odds. In truth, he nurtured a brand of politics where money spoke, through five and six figure donations. The little guy, from Tripodi’s childhood, never stood a chance.
It is worth reflecting on the careers that Tripodi has truncated, delayed and created, usually not for the best.
His fingerprints are all over the preselections of at least a dozen NSW Labor MPs. In his efforts to promote his mates, acolytes, allies and, yes, his relatives, he has ridden roughshod over the rights or ordinary and largely selfless Labor Party members.
In concert with his erstwhile allies from the Labor Machine, Tripodi’s anti-democratic interventions have seen Tanya Gadiel imposed on Parramatta, Kristina Keneally inflicted on Heffron, and his sister-in-law, Angela D’Amore slam dunked into Drummoyne. (That he has fallen out spectacularly with D’Amore does not mitigate the violence he has done to the morale of Labor’s rank and file in the inner west).
In Parramatta, for example, Tripodi blocked the entry into Parliament at 2003 election of the popular and able mayor, David Borger, who was sidelined until 2007. In Heffron, Tripodi’s acolyte, Keneally, was so unpopular following imposition that her local branches declined to elect her as a delegate to the ALP conference. She rose without a trace and her clumsy, defensive performance, combined with an oddly superior demeanour as Planning Minister, will ensure she will disappear the same way. It’s not Keneally’s American accent that’s the problem; it’s the attitude.
The real devastation in the weekend’s events for Joe Tripodi is the bursting of the media bubble. Tripodi rarely spoke on the record, but his surrogates were always ready to perpetuate the myth that Joe controlled the NSW right. The gallery ate it up.
Joe has destroyed that which he created: his Terrigal sub-faction of the right, set up with Obeid, was designed to support Head Office. But by overplaying his power, the Machine has turned on him.
Arbib, Bitar, and the new NSW Secretary Matt Thistlethwaite, finally recognised he was a liability. The real power in the NSW Right now rests with Canberra (Burke, Bowen, Arbib). What’s more, Tripodi’s downfall strips away the protections he afforded his acolytes like Keneally.
They are now on their own.