Finally, someone has injected a bit of testosterone into the NSW election campaign. Two weeks after the Coalition put on the Mogadon campaign launch, we finally got to view a bit of bare-knuckle cage fighting at the Treasurers’ debate, fittingly held at the Penrith Panthers.

It’s hard to imagine Sky News’ David Speers losing his cool, but he came close to it yesterday, trying to quell the whining, shouting and name-calling emanating from Treasurer Eric Roozendaal, and occasionally matched by his Coalition counterpart, Mike Baird.

The biggest arguments, of course, were about the botched electricity privatisation,  as it is the latest in a long line of government debacles. NSW Labor is fundamentally conflicted on this issue due to its close political and financial ties to the Electrical Trades Union. The ETU’s members work mainly in the generators, while the employees in the retail businesses belong mainly to the United Services Union. Anyone with a interest in this should read Simon Benson’s excellent book, Betrayal, The Underbelly of Australian Labor, which gives a history of an issue that has been tearing the party apart for decades and brought down former Premier Morris Iemma.

Just before the Christmas break, Roozendaal managed to get through a $5.3 billion sale of the retailers and the output from the generators, but hung on to the generators — a state accurately described by Baird yesterday as being “half-pregnant”, a “mess” and the “Pro Hart” of any situation it had signed off on.

The debate’s first set of fisticuffs involved a dispute about the net proceeds of the sale. Eric bandied about a figure of $3.272 billion (no one believes that) while Baird used the oft-quoted figure of less than $1 billion. The arguments were so specious that they might as well have quoted Lewis Carroll:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

The Treasurer did make the mistake of mentioning the Parramatta-to-Epping rail link, which was first mooted in 1998 and is now a by-word for broken election promises. The reason it has never been built is that too much of it runs through Liberal electorates — what is the point of spending money on people who don’t vote for you?

Next was a very long argument about  how Labor is going to fund its $4 billion in spending promises. All quite entertaining, but as the odds on Labor winning the election are now about 1000-1, too theoretical to follow very closely. Apart from the Harold Park tram-sheds in Verity Firth’s electorate, which got slipped $10 million yesterday just hours before the government went into caretaker mode, I wouldn’t be counting on Eric giving me anything.

The best shouting match was about climate change and a carbon tax, ending up with Eric snapping that Barry O’Farrell was nothing but a pale imitation of Tony Abbott, which was the most interesting thing he said all day.  Although, let’s face it, Tony is so manic, belligerent and hirsute, he makes everyone else look like a yoga teacher.

The Panthers was a good place to debate this issue, as its carbon footprint can probably be seen from the moon. Penrith’s distance from the CBD and lack of public transport meant that we all drove there — the car park is the size of my suburb.  The building itself is designed to keep out any skerrick of natural light and, on a stinking hot day, was air-conditioned to about 20 degrees.

In fact, when peak oil has passed, and the good citizens of Western Sydney have realised that neither side can solve their problems, the Panthers could probably be renamed Ozymandias.

“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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