Hit self-destruct: NSW Labor’s doomsday solution
It sounds impossible, but NSW politics could be about to get a whole lot more interesting.
“More interesting” in the NSW context currently comes with a high degree of difficulty. It’s hard to imagine how you could top the recent combo of the John Della Bosca sex scandal and, three days later, the murky claims that slain property developer Michael McGurk recorded a “tape from the grave” before his execution implicating up to three Labor MPs in a corruption scandal.
But what might be about to happen will be spectacular never the less. It will only happen, however, if Nathan Rees acts with a combination of courage and abandon, in standing up to those elements within the party who are regarded by voters as a permanent stain on the government, doing so in the knowledge that he’s got nothing to lose as he’s doomed anyway.
Rees is being urged to declare a total and final war on Right Faction kingmakers Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid and their nuggety grouping of MPs who are beholden to the pair for their continuing preselection.
The advice to Rees, basically, is to blow up the government.
Sack Tripodi from Cabinet and declare that he doesn’t want him preselected again, declare that Eddie Obeid, long since stripped of ministerial or committee responsibilities, is no longer welcome in his government and will not be permitted to renominate for the Legislative Council. Tell any MP loyal to these men that if they are linked in any way to continuing maneuverings that they too will lose the premier’s support, and new candidates sought for their seats.
It’s not that desperate a line of thinking when you recognise that the March 2011 election is of itself a doomsday scenario for this 14-year-old government. A government which is both loathed and incompetent, with its incompetence stemming from two things - a dwindling gene pool and a permanent state of distraction caused by acts of intrigue and treachery by the sub-factions of the once-great NSW Right.
“Student politics 20 years on” is how one mate describes it. It’s an apt description.
Rightly or wrongly - and acknowledging that if their surnames were Smith and Jones they’d get less attention - Tripodi and Obeid have become the touchstones for internal and external discontent.
Neither man has ever been found guilty of any wrongdoing, or accused of anything that’s gone beyond the level of Independent Commission Against Corruption. Eddie Obeid has successfully sued Fairfax in the past for being accused of as much. But both men have turned up on the periphery of the recurring low-rent scandals which have beset NSW such as the Wollongong property developer scandal and Orange Grove retail project (Tripodi) or the Oasis development (Obeid), with friends or friends of friends emerging as players and dragging the two MPs into the mire.
What matters more is the perception that people in this government are more interested in wielding power as an end to itself, rather than exercising it maturely and thoughtfully for the greater good.
When Nathan Rees took over from Morris Iemma last year he used his first press conference to promise a “fresh start” and “a red hot go” and then, at his second presser, said pathetically that he’d been given a list of names by Caucus to assemble the frontbench and gave Tripodi a promotion.
The Daily Telegraph’s website found 2 per cent of 9000-odd respondents thought Tripodi deserved to be in Cabinet.
Rees, of course, is indebted to Tripodi and Obeid for securing him the premiership. The pair advised Iemma to sack Michael Costa as Treasurer, but used it as a trap for Iemma, with the ensuing dischord allowing the Left Faction’s Rees to ice-skate through the middle as the Steven Bradbury candidate for the job.
But the reality now is that there are so many people in the public and the party who are fed up with the influence of these factional overlords that Rees will lose his job anyway.
He could lose it in Caucus, where former Sydney Lord Mayor and ex-minister Frank Sartor commands numbers off the back of his unabashed hatred for Tripodi.
If Rees doesn’t lose it there he’ll lose it on polling day.
So the logic is thus. Rees is quite liked by the community. Sartor isn’t. Tripodi most definitely isn’t. Nobody really knows what Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell stands for. There is no groundswell towards the Liberals off the back of anything other than a dislike of the ALP.
The model being put to Rees is that used by Peter Beattie in his war with Bill Ludwig and the Australian Workers Union, which for years had carved up the spoils of defeat while Joh’s Nationals reigned, engaging in factional interplays which did nothing to make Labor electable.
Beattie’s public brawling with the AWU built his standing as a man of principle who simply wanted to run the state. It left the Opposition in the odd position of having to agree with a Labor Premier that the Labor factions were a disgrace.
The thinking is that Rees could pull this off because no-one hates him - they feel sorry for him.
“He’s seen as a decent bloke who’s been handed a hospital pass,” one source says. “There’s no love for O’Farrell but unless there’s a war the Libs will just waltz into office.”
There has been nothing red-hot or even luke-warm about the go Nathan Rees has had at governing. The longest-serving administration in the land was outwitted this week by a 61-year-old paedophile with a dazzling collection of nervous twitches who said a polite “no thanks” when the Government feebly suggested he should move out of the suburb of Ryde.
Rees can choose between a future where he makes Joan Kirner and Lynn Arnold look like political titans - or one where he goes down, or even gets back, by picking a massive internal fight where most members of the public and party would cheer him on.
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