Will O'Farrell's Demise Fix NSW?


No NSW premier since Bob Carr has served a full term. None has left office without some cloud hanging over them. Each has been trapped by influence peddling that puts the interests of their party's mates in the big end of town ahead of the interests of the state's communities and environment.

In NSW it does not seem to matter which of the two major parties is in power: it's the lobbyists and their clients who get the ear of government.

From mining conglomerates to private sector water companies, NSW is open to business provided it has the right party connections.

That culture of influence-peddling has now claimed the scalp of Premier Barry O'Farrell.

In March 2011, the Coalition was swept to power on a promise of more open and transparent government.

After the suspension of three Liberal MPs from the party pending ICAC investigations and a premier undone by his dealings with a lobbyist, it's clear the Coalition promised high and delivered low.

But this is not just a Liberal problem. Nor is it just about Barry O'Farrell and a very expensive bottle of wine.

It is the culture of behind-closed-doors influence-peddling that has enmeshed both political parties and possibly an independent MP. Communities across NSW are feeling shut-out of the political process while big business buys access to the decision makers. There has to be a lesson from the political collapse of yet another premier: this culture must come to an end.

The Greens are not prepared to let the state's finances and environment be sacrificed to the get-rich-quick merchants who trade on their close relationships with government politicians and political parties.

In his 2010 report, former ICAC Commissioner Ipp provided a road map for reform to close down the culture of lobbying NSW politics.

The vast majority of his recommendations for reform were studiously ignored by both the Keneally and O'Farrell governments. O'Farrell came to office with Ipp's report on his desk but instead chose the path of least resistance. In 2011 he banned success fees for lobbyists. He was also embarrassed into supporting Greens amendments that slowed the revolving door by imposing a cooling-off period before ex-ministers and parliamentary secretaries could take up a job in a sector they had regulated or had legislative influence over.

Pressure from the Greens also saw O'Farrell subsequently amend the Lobbyist Code of Conduct in October last year to ban party office holders from being lobbyists.

However, even when serious allegations against Liberal MPs including a former senior government minister began to surface, the remainder of the 2010 recommendations went untouched by the Coalition.

As recently as September 2013, O'Farrell denied there was problem with the lobbying culture in his government.

Hopefully whoever emerges as the new premier will have learnt a valuable lesson.

The Greens are committed to a new era of politics in this state. It is time to put a broom through a political culture of influence-peddling and money politics in which a premier was inundated with gifts and favours from lobbyists all seeking to push their private profit-seeking agendas.

All meetings between businesses seeking a favourable government decision and ministers, parliamentary secretaries, senior bureaucrats or ministerial staffers must be minuted and made publicly available.

MPs should have to declare all potential personal interests in any decision they are involved in and the revolving door between senior decision-makers and industries they were involved with must be closed.

The Greens have been at the forefront of the process to rid this state of the corrupting influence of political donations but more work needs to be done.

Extending the definition of prohibited donors to include mining companies, public private partnerships and other government contractors and applying the caps on donations and spending in state elections to local government elections are key priorities.

O'Farrell's resignation marks a significant turning point. The people of NSW should not lose heart from the events of today. NSW is sick, but the antidote is readily available if there is the political will to administer it.

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