When New South Wales Parliament recessed in November, 2003, in advance of the forthcoming state election, then-premier Bob Carr spotted independent MPs at a farewell supper in the parliamentary dining room.
He strode over to the table and declared in magisterial style: “Attack me, attack me. If you want to hold onto your seats, you will have to start attacking me.”
His startling advice was greeted with embarrassed laughter by the independents, who included Clover Moore (Bligh), Dr Peter Macdonald (Manly), Tony McGrane (Dubbo) and Richard Torbay (Northern Tablelands).
But there was method in Carr’s apparent madness. He recognised that every independent MP who was elected to the Legislative Assembly denied the Coalition a seat in Parliament and protected his majority.
When they hit the hustings in February 2004, sitting independents mounted attacks on the Carr government’s denial of sufficient funds for local schools, hospitals and roads. The phony war against Carr was an apparent success, because all the independents were duly re-elected.
Turning calendars forward to December 2014, upper house MP Robert Borsak of the Shooters and Fishers Party has now initiated a similar strategy by blasting Premier Mike Baird just days after Parliament rose for the last time before the state election on March 28.
He pledged that if he were re-elected, his two-member outfit would not support Baird’s plan to sell half the state’s electricity poles and wires and use the $20 billion profit to build a pharaonic scale of infrastructure, set to include motorways, tunnels, bridges, railways, schools and hospitals.
In the finely balanced upper house where no government has held a majority since the 1980s, Borsak’s threat to reject the electricity legislation struck like a wrecking ball. But for Borsak’s threat to have any meaning, he would have to win an upper house seat in March — and for the power sale to be realised Baird’s Coalition would have to win the election.
Borsak, aka “The Elephant Man” after displaying photos of a pachyderm he shot in southern Africa, is a noted grandstander. He said his pledge to block the power sale if re-elected was “not negotiable at all — no deals”.
His fighting remarks drew media attention — which is precisely what they were intended to do. However, his intervention had all the hallmarks of a drowning minor party leader trying to grab a headline to convince voters of his relevance. The underlying message seemed to be: “Look at me, I’m agin the government.”
Former premier Barry O’Farrell struck a deal with Borsak in 2012 to support an earlier stage of the power privatisation agenda, but the two then had a bitter falling out.
Last July, after quitting the premiership over a bottle of Grange he had received as a gift from a lobbyist, O’Farrell said Borsak had the hunting skills of former American Vice-President Dick Cheney, who notoriously shot a friend in the face during a hunting trip. He continued: “I always got the impression he [Borsak] was more comfortable with defenceless prey than those who fight back.”
Other than his shooting prowess, Borsak’s greatest handicap is inconsistency. On the final day of Parliament, November 23, Borsak said that Baird was “making a fair fist of the job” as premier.
“I look forward to working with any premier who is prepared to get in and have a go, to get things done such as building infrastructure and helping businesses, both large and small, and to create jobs and wealth for the citizens of NSW,” Borsak said.
One week later he was threatening to sabotage Baird’s power sale by voting against it and halting the Coalition’s “Rebuild NSW” infrastructure plan.
When Borsak comes begging for preferences from the Coalition — and Labor, for that matter — the party should should tell him to go a-shootin’ and a-fishin’.