Every MP who served in the Carr era from 1988 to 2007 has been invited to a Sydney dinner on September 18 to “celebrate the brilliant Carr career”.

Well, almost everyone.

Not on the invitation list are the factional warlords who controlled the numbers while former Labor politician Bob Carr served as New South Wales’ opposition leader from 1988, and as premier from 1995 — Eddie Obeid (Terrigals) and Ian Macdonald (Hard Left). At the recent NSW ALP conference, Obeid and Macdonald were booted out of the party for life, and then delegates voted to grant Carr life membership.

The dinner invitation has been circulated by John Della Bosca, a former senior minister, upper house MP and party general secretary, who is now national campaign director of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

“If you were there for the hard years of opposition between 1988 and 1995 you will not need a reminder of his dedication, passion and skill,” Della Bosca writes. “Of course those who were privileged to [be] a member of the Carr government you will feel as I do, that Bob was the Labor leader of our generation and the next.”

Speaking of the next generation, Carr’s new wave, Reba Meagher, Tanya Gadiel, Angela D’Amore, Virginia Judge and Cherie Burton have all either left or are leaving parliament or been defeated at the polls. Other women in Carr’s administration didn’t fare so well either. Think of Deirdre Grusovin (not even on the invitation list!), Pam Allan and Gabrielle Harrison have all been shunned in one way or another.

“Della” confesses that “this function started life as an initiative of Labor supporters in the Indian subcontinent community”. Many are doctors and professional people desperately keen for social advancement, which is the natural prerogative of every new community to arrive in Australia. Most can easily afford the $150 for a ticket or the $1250 for a table.

I wonder if they realise that Della has invited some “ring-ins” too, such as Robert Webster, a National Party minister in the Greiner government, and Alex McTaggart, the independent who succeeded John Brogden in Pittwater. Why?

“There was a general uncertainty about what, apart from winning office, Labor stood for. Was it the party of developers, careerists, progressives, economic rationalists or ordinary working people?”

Showing sensible caution, the Carr dinner is not being billed as “a fundraiser” because that type of occasion reached its zenith under general secretary Mark Arbib, when publicans and developers filled ballrooms, but those functions are now off limits.

Della Bosca boasts that the venue is in western Sydney — at the Grand Marion in Harris Park — “a region of our great State where Bob’s political campaigning was most formidable and where, contrary to Liberal Party propaganda and the willful ignorance of some  conservative commentators a large number of Labor’s key legacy initiatives in infrastructure as well as social policy are most clearly identifiable”.

Perhaps someone should ask Della to organise a tour of Carr projects in the region. They were mostly motorways built by Macquarie Infrastructure, which charged motorists a healthy toll for the privilege of using them.

Ex-premier Morris Iemma (also on the invitation list) showed little regard for Carr’s legacy by declaring a suite of large-scale infrastructure projects the moment he took office in 2005. He was responding to public disquiet about high-profile infrastructure items such as the cross-Sydney tunnel and the Lane Cove tunnel, both of which were mishandled duds, and the lack of spending on road, train, bridge, school and hospital renovation, maintenance and renewal.

Like the present Abbott government, Carr’s era seemed focused on debt reduction and budget surpluses rather than the provision of basic public services.

At his first (and last) election in March 2007, Iemma adopted the longest slogan ever to badge the campaign: “More to do but heading in the right direction”. He also announced that “NSW was open for business”, a catchphrase since borrowed by Abbott with the substitution of Australia in place of NSW.

Former NSW parliamentary historian David Clune, noted for his shrewd political judgement, described modern Labor as “no longer [having] a clearly defined image, sense of purpose and set of core beliefs”. “There was a general uncertainty about what, apart from winning office, Labor stood for. Was it the party of developers, careerists, progressives, economic rationalists or ordinary working people?”

Carr bluntly sustained the public’s uncertainty by becoming a lobbyist for Macquarie Bank (aka the Millionaires’ Factory) just weeks after quitting the premiership and then abortively trying to establish an office for himself in Governor Macquarie Tower, headquarters of the executive government.

Some dinner invitees will be reluctant to shell out and show up. Many are still bruised by Carr’s capricious manner and the battering they received from factional thugs. The Indians will have to provide the audience, as they do for Test cricket.

Peter Fray

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