As Morris Iemma prepares to lead an ill-fated assault to push his Electricity Privatisation Bill through the NSW Upper House, it’s a good time to think about what sort of state Iemma is "leading". Opinion polls for the Premier suggest the $150 million-plus Catholic Expo and a Channel Nine makeover have done nothing for his popularity.
It’s pretty simple really: NSW is a corrupt state. Think of the Railcorp employee who won $4 million in contracts for mates to fix our railways (some jobs weren’t even completed but the cheques were paid). Think of the two former NSW Fire Brigade Managers who used fake tenders to award work to companies they controlled. How much? $2.5 million between them (the two managers paid off mortgages, one even bought a farm). Think of the renegade cop who worked for the "untouchable" NSW Crime Commission, while allegedly involved in a drug ring.
I know we’ve bemoaned the proliferation of "corruption" in NSW since I don’t know, 1789 but by 2008, our tolerance should have waned.
Just like Federal Labor, when something goes wrong or it’s "too political" to make a decision, NSW Labor holds an inquiry. There are even inquiries into inquiries – which must be riveting. At one recently, ICAC Commissioner Justice Jerrold Cripps, QC, said "RailCorp is exceptional in its intransigence" and with apt legal flair added "RailCorp has flooded us with work".
For years we admonished the Howard Government for being soft on ministerial responsibility or for the "death of the Westminster system". Howard was a light-weight compared to NSW. The farce of the NSW Government should result in a daily parade of public servants, advisors and MPs leaving the lobby of Macquarie Towers with hands in the air, saying, "Sorry, I’m not up for this". Corruption inquiries are vital, but apart from sorting out the bad apples, do they result in any institutional reform?
Perhaps those bearded, bureaucrats from the Blue Mountains do sit under their desks, crying. Maybe the Labor hacks that enjoyed the career high of chalking outside university libraries and are now advising Ministers, end their days with 30-minute hot showers, because they feel so dirty. So they should.
The misery of a failing government and blatant abuse of power should eventually achieve some resolution. It has in the past, such as in the case of former premier Nick Greiner. Not for NSW Labor, instead we get regrets, changed policy announcements, re-shuffling of cabinet and the same cast of failures.
Ironically, the one thing NSW Labor does do effectively is sack councils, for – you guessed it – poor management and corruption. In the past five years, seven councils – Port Macquarie-Hastings, Wollongong, Shellharbour City, Tweed Shire, Broken Hill, Walgett and Liverpool – have been dismissed, with an administrator appointed by the Minister for Local Government (usually for four years).
One of these councils, Port Macquarie on the mid-north coast, was sacked in February 2008 for the proposed development of a cultural and entertainment complex (the Glasshouse). When the development budget went from $6 million to $41 million, it was decided that the Council (with a Liberal majority) had misled the community and it was dismissed.
Need a comparative example of gross mismanagement and miscalculated costs? How about the T-Card extravaganza. This is the "plan" by the NSW Government to implement a ticketing system through Sydney’s public transport network enabling travellers to use a single "smart card" (this could be the core of the problem). This is not a unique proposal. There are hundred’s of cities on Planet Earth that enjoy these facilities.
After unfulfilled tenders and further testing, Sydney still doesn’t have its T-Card system. The NSW Opposition have suggested the cost of this exercise is possibly $600 million. On this basis, the Iemma Government should be sacked.
When a state government sacks a council, an administrator is appointed for four years. Unlike most councils in NSW, there won’t be an election for new councillors in at least four councils on September 15. The next state election is in 2011. If an election was held this weekend, I’d be door knocking and/or begging to get rid of Labor.
Unfortunately NSW doesn’t have an Opposition. Leader of the NSW Libs, Barry O’Farrell, has passed on so many opportunities to bury Morris Iemma that one is inclined to suspect he is either suppressing a Stilnox addiction or he doesn’t really want to be Premier of NSW. O’Farrell’s "will I, won’t I" decision to vote against the Team Iemma/Costa Electricity Privatisation Bill was finally made at the 11th hour (in line with his farming compadres, who have opposed it for months). Let’s not begin to contemplate a scenario where he has to make quick, significant choices on an ongoing basis.
Now is the time for the NSW Governor to show there is something behind the smiles, or for Kevin Rudd to grow a pair and start acting like a leader.
In the US, a retired army general recently said that a US soldier who loses their weapon faces harsher discipline than a general who sends defence forces into an ill-advised war. In NSW, we simply reward failure with more of the same.
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