NSW: Not Fit for a Woman


The new NSW Cabinet has described itself as the "A-Team". But even a quick look at their previous records shows that this is a very big call, and one that’s likely to offend a lot of people, including Mr. T and anyone who likes their words to mean something.

Last week’s purge in Macquarie Street started with John Watkins’s adenoidal whine about caucus toxicity and the need for family. Between Michael Costa’s Dr Evil-like riff ("It’s not my problem anymore but the economy is stuffed") and Morris Iemma’s need for a hug, NSW has ended up with… Nathan Rees.

Rees has been talked about as a potential leader ever since he entered Parliament. The fact that this was only 18 months ago indicates how much faith ALP hacks had in Morris Iemma after the 2007 state election. Proving how quickly you can forget you’ve been eating a sh*t sandwich, there seems to be an air of excitement around the new leader. His widely circulated resume – ex-garbo, green keeper, cycling enthusiast, he really was a garbo, degree in english lit, ministerial staffer and of course once upon a time he was a garbo — would seem to suggest we have a renaissance man leading the state.

His political induction as Minister for Water included support for policy proposals like Tillegra Dam in the Hunter Valley. (Not a great idea. Apart from being an idyllic ecosystem which would be flooded, the area around the Williams River is one of the few places in drought stricken NSW not to have water restrictions in recent years.) As Minister it has been alleged Rees instructed the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal not to review the justification for the dam. The estimated cost of the proposed dam is $1 billion.

Rees has also been responsible for overseeing construction of the unnecessary desalination plant at Kurnell. Rees was at pains to describe the desal as carbon neutral — which is somewhat disingenuous, unless he can build the plant without carbon emitting machinery and dig a hole and run a pipe from Kurnell to the inner city, carbon free. The cost of the plant is $1.9 billion and the revised cost of the pipeline is $650 million.

Prior to becoming an MP, Rees worked as a staffer for Morris Iemma (the first NSW Labor Premier to be disendorsed by the Party), Craig Knowles (former Urban Affairs and Planning Minsiter, resigned a few months after a DUI conviction) and Milton Orkopoulos (former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, was charged in November 2007 of 30 offences including involvement in child prostitution, sexual assault and supplying illegal drugs. He was convicted of 28 offences relating to sexual assault of a minor, indecent assault and supplying heroin and cannabis). Nathan Rees either makes appalling employer choices or he now has a very cogent understanding of what not to do in office.

Last week’s rise of Rees was an admission that he was the least unsuitable man to be Premier. But how about a woman? It seems absurd that Carmel Tebbutt — with extensive experience as a minister and without a graveyard full of bungles or controversies — couldn’t be appointed Premier. Tebbutt herself has been at pains to inform us her priority is her young son and picking him up from after-school play group. It must be a relief to her that she’s relying on her ministerial driver to make this possible and not the NSW public transport system. However, it’s unclear how being Deputy Premier makes picking up her son an achievable commitment which would be unfeasible as Premier.

Let’s hypothesise about the sort of change a "Premier Tebbutt" announcement could have been? A female premier in NSW. A working mother, like so many others, endeavouring to achieve the work/life balance. Tebbutt’s husband Anthony Albanese, resigning as Federal Minister for Transport, where you could say he wasn’t really doing much (seriously — Albo’s most recent policy announcement is to improve freight services between Flinders Island and Tassie), to provide greater assistance with parenting duties. Plus NSW gets a Premier with ministerial experience beyond building unnecessary water infrastructure and working for Iemma, Knowles and Orkopoulos.

Of course, NSW Labor factions are very enthusiastic about women, just not necessarily as leaders.

I suppose they’d make the point that the A-Team’s Hannibal Smith was a man, and it’s a fair point. So who’s left in the NSW version? One can’t be too negative about Eric Roozendaal. Being clocked driving in a bus lane, overturning election promises and dropping out of a commerce degree make Roozendaal the obvious candidate for Treasurer of the faltering NSW economy.

With Costa and Sartor gone, it’s not really possible to repeat the offensive suggestion that the two — with Joe Tripodi — formed some sort of mafioso clique in NSW Labor. This statement was made on numerous occasions, not least of all by the NSW Opposition and it is totally offensive to members of the mafia who, by and large, are very effective and capable. Joe Tripodi can seemingly do no wrong, but let’s hope Rees stands by his statement over the weekend when he told Labor ministers, "No one is safe".

(See you in six months Joe, when you pull your next dodgy move…)

One minister who can be proud of her elevation is former Minister for Ageing, now Minister for Planning, Kristina Keneally. Keneally did a terrific job coordinating the World Catholics Gone Wild Tour of 2008 (costing somewhere between $150-300 million, it hasn’t been finalised) and has fittingly got Planning — aka the "crown jewels" portfolio, as it’s known in state ALP circles. Hopefully she’ll find a suitable new home for Hillsong in her electorate.

According to research by the Greens, Keneally is adept at fundraising for the Labor Party, which I suppose makes her the thinking developer’s choice for Planning Minister. She certainly seems across the responsibilities of the task, stating, "There’s no doubt that the planning portfolio is one that requires a diplomatic touch. It’s one where you need to evaluate a variety of views and certainly it’s one that requires both integrity and honesty. It’s something that the previous minister Frank Sartor had [WTF?] and I hope that the community sees that in me as well."

Despite this recent spring clean, we are stuck with a B-Grade Cabinet in NSW. The only hope is for the NSW Upper House to continue to oppose the Government and whatever measures Rees proposes to turn this "stinking ship" around.

Bring on the double dissolution!

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.