In the name of God, go! (repost)

I don’t have much more to say about the systemic corruption of the NSW Labor party than I already said in this post from July, except that I now think Federal intervention is essential. Suspending Eddie Obeid is not nearly enough. Those who allied themselves with him including Tripodi, Roozendaal, Bitar, Arbib and Keneally must all go too. And Labor needs a new Parliamentary leader – John Robertson is too compromised to present a clean face. It will be a long while before Labor is electable at a state level in NSW. But a determined cleanup would help reduce the damage to the national party

Back around 1970, the Labor Party was unelectable because its biggest branches, in NSW and Victoria, were controlled by factional machines of the right and left respectively, who were still refighting the battles of the 1950s Split. The eventual response was Federal intervention to restructure both branches. The intervention was more successful in Victoria than in NSW, but overall the results were good enough to produce a revitalised Labor party. The election of the Whitlam government was one result, as was the strength of the early Hawke ministries, almost any member of which would outperform the great majority of both frontbenches today.

I doubt that an intervention would produce a similar result in NSW today, but the situation is now so dire that it could scarcely make matters worse. It’s hard to imagine a political party with less justification for its continued existence than NSW Labor. It sold out its stated principles with repeated attempts to privatise the electricity industry, then made a botch of the job anyway. It has made itself look stupid with repeated changes of leaders (the only one who tried any resistance to the machine was Nathan Rees, and he was promptly squashed). Its members are enmeshed in every kind of corruption, financial, ethical and sexual, above and beyond the routine corruption of political processes that turned the word “rort” from Sussex Street slang into an Australian byword for sharp practice. Electorally, it’s a disaster area, having gone down to the worst defeat in its modern history, under the sock-puppet leadership of Kristina Keneally. Even though the NSW Libs are, as they always have been, appallingly bad, the O’Farrell government is riding high.

And now, these geniuses have decided that it’s smart politics to make war on the party that’s keeping Federal Labor in office, and with which they will need to deal for the indefinite future if they ever want to pass legislation through the Parliament. Looking at this appalling crew, I can only quote Oliver Cromwell “You have been sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”

Update My friends at the Oz take a keen interest in all my thoughts, so I wasn’t too surprised to see this post linked in their “Cut and Paste” section. However, the headline All the Climate Change Authority member would like now is to get rid of the NSW Right seemed both unwieldy and obtuse, in a fish-meets-bicycle kind of way. Why should my (widely shared and longstanding) views on the NSW Labor Right machine be of any more interest by virtue of my membership of the Climate Change Authority? And why should my enthusiasm about the election of the Rudd government (also linked by Cut and Paste) be relevant to either?

The answer, I would imagine, is this post by Sinclair Davidson at Catallaxy who (in a quite strange misreading) took the imprecation “In the name of God, go” to be directed, not at the Sussex Street machine repeatedly criticised in the post, but at the Federal Labor government. Terje Peterson tried to set him straight in comments (thanks, Terje), but I had to spell the point out before he added a correction on Sunday evening, which made the entire post rather pointless. By that time, I imagine, the cutter and paster had already set the story up and gone home, leaving the unfortunate sub-editor to do a salvage job with the headline (not the first time!).

40 thoughts on “In the name of God, go! (repost)

  1. I don’t understand the point of Cut and paste. It’s really all just about being a vindictive third rate blog as far as I can see. It adds no credibility to the Aus at all.

    As for Catallaxy, I could not understand how Professor Davidson could read your post and misinterpret it. But I don’t understand how he gets to his interpretations on lots of things. A blog fight would be boring. Terje, despite his libertarian failings, tends to act in good faith.

    The central part of your post, re NSW Labor, I have no insight, but I studied a bit with NSW public servants, and they were either thoroughly disheartened and disempowered, or completely incompetent.

  2. Sam :
    Why does this keep happening? Why is state Labor so utterly horrendous?

    Vic ALP wasn’t that bad. Had some reasonable talents, Bracks, Brumby, Thwaites, Hulls.

  3. Opps PrQ:

    And Labor leads {needs} a new Parliamentary leader – John Robertson is too compromised to present a clean face.

  4. this misconduct occurred despite an ICAC and an upper house they did not control. A federal ICAC is required to add furthur tension to the mix.

    Hong Kong got on top of the problem in the 1970s by making having unexplained income or wealth a criminal offence for public officials.

    the liberals could even win more seats at the next state election.

  5. Why should my (widely shared and longstanding) views on the NSW Labor Right machine be of any more interest by virtue of my membership of the Climate Change Authority?

    Surely you jest. This is The OZ and the answer was/is obvious.

  6. @Sam

    Qld Labor were politically bad (more on this later, I hope). But they weren’t systemically corrupt, and they did a reasonable job of dealing with the bad apples. By contrast, the incoming Newman government seems to be modelling itself on some combination of NSW Labor and the Joh era Nationals.

  7. @John Quiggin

    It seems to me that any regime that stays in power much beyond about 8 years starts to become demoralised and culturally moribund. They become habituated to office and see it as their plaything, whatever lipservice is paid to the niceties in public. NSW Labor won in 2007, not because people liked them but because they didn’t want to break the momentum building up against Howard Federally, and in part too because Debnam was such a goose.

    They probably thought they were going to get beaten and they won anyway and then all they had were Liberal policies. They had Costa — ironically a one time lefty of all things, but now of the Friedman-Hayek right — and got it into their heads that Liberals would keep them in office if they started flogging off power assets. The trouble was that Liberals weren’t much keener on it than ALP voters.

    The other thing though is the structure of governing political parties, which are best described as patronage networks — they broker access to office — and when this becomes enmeshed with human frailty and habituation — something that smells like Sussex St is the result. The truth of the matter is that very few people can give up the time to do the schmoozing and horse-trading needed to eventually be handed political power by a patronage network — and then only if they have something to pay back to the network when they achieve office.

    Inevitably, whatever ideas one had at the beginning of the process, by the time you get in charge of any asset worth having, you will have become a creature of the most powerful actors within the elite. If you can’t be of service to them, they will toss you — typically long before you get to the top. Their concern is usually moot of course because you will have spent so long rationalising your success as compatible with their advantage and spinning the whole show as “in the public interest” that you won’t be able to tell truth from utter fiction and those powerful interests will have enough on you to muscle you out if you step accidentally out of line.

    That’s why we need a whole new system for doing governance — one that makes patronage networks impossible or at any rate, damned hard to establish and maintain.

  8. When the power brokers of the NSW Right were at University in the early 1980’s, they were recruited by the Liberal Party. Student politics at the time was in an uproar: Anthony Wallbanger and Julia G were engaged in not-quite-undergraduate-level debates (much the same as they are now); Hawke had seen a tearful head prefect off and it looked like the Liberals could reserve their seats to the left of the Speaker for some time- fifteen years, as it happened.
    What better time to set the white ants loose?
    Conspiracy theory?
    Maybe, but I have yet to hear of anything to come out of NSW Labor in the last ten years that has brought kudos, popularity or stability to the party. Instead, we get some boofhead slagging off at the Greens whose votes are essential to this parliament running full term; they engineer the dismissal of Rudd whose popularity exceeded the current combined total of Gillard and Abbott and probably Swan as well (although this may relate more to the spanking the Maroons give the Blues every year); was it their idea to frame the mining tax law such that if the States want more federal money, all they have to do is increase royalties. Bloody brilliant, mate.
    I know they’re team players, but whose team?

  9. Geoff Andrews, the power brokers of the NSW RIght didn’t need to be recruited by the Liberals. From the 1980s onwards the dominant discourse and culture of the Labor Right in student politics everywhere has seen the left and progressive politics in all manifestations as the main enemy, has no critique of capitalism, and has brought that outlook into the senior party after graduation. Thus we have seen creatures such as Reba Meagher, who become involved in student politics and Australian Young Labor to do down the Left, carried on that campaign in the senior party, and then when she was installed as Health Minister was found to have no interest in or capacity for the traditional Labor priority of running a public health system for the benefit of the public. The Don’t You Know Who I Am person from Gosford also fits that mould.

  10. And of course we have people like Roozendaal who were hand in glove with the Liberals against the Left when they were at university.

  11. So what do you think of Bob Carr’s role in all this JQ? Is he responsible for not nipping all this in the bud?

  12. “So what do you think of Bob Carr’s role in all this JQ? Is he responsible for not nipping all this in the bud?”

    Carr is and was a useless pompous jerk.

    Within months of his election in 1995, the neolibs (merchant bankers appointed by Greiner and Fahey) at NSW Treasury had convinced him that privatisation of electricity was the single most important thing that had to be done. That was completely wrong, but nobody within the party was ever able to overcome the BS.

  13. And, John, a few corrections:

    “Tripodi, Roozendaal, Bitar, Arbib and Keneally must all go too.”

    Joe Tripodi did not contest the 2011 election. He’s gone already.

    Kristina Keneally resigned from parliament in June 2012. She’s gone.

    Mark Arbib resigned from the senate in March 2012. He’s gone.

    Bitar resigned as national secretaty some time in 2011. He’s gone.

    Roozendall will likely be gaoled. He’ll soon be gone.

    So really there’s noone apart from Robertson who can comply with your request.

    I don’t agree that he’s compromised. He’s one of the very few who aren’t.

  14. I’ve just been reading through the ICAC transcript from this morning 21/11/2012, the evidence of Mr Coutts from the Dept of Primary Industries. The call for expressions of interest in the coal exploration licence was triggered by the process of privatising the generators in NSW.

    Reading between the lines, my guess would be that the privatisation process was restarted by Iemma at the behest of Obeid, precisely because it would enable the scam that Obeid was running.

    That would explain why the privatisation continued even after it cost the jobs of Iemma and Rees (and treasurer Costa), and even when it was obvious to all concerned that it would not raise a single cent for the NSW taxpayers (i.e. sale price much less than retention value). The privatisation was designed to make money for Obeid and other insiders.

  15. @SJ I shocked. commercial assets handled in a corrupt, incompetent or politicised manner when in government hands. does this happen often?

    the usual way is the gains from privatisations are partly dissipated is a public float with very favourable terms for small investors. the control premium from a sale of 51%+ to one private buyer is forgone.

    as I recall, Federal Labor promised in newspaper ads not to sell more than 25% of the commonwealth bank. revenue from that sale was to pay for the rescue of the state bank of vic.

    why is it that state politics generally is more corrupt?

  16. @SJ What is your evidence rather than speculation?

    Is there any chance that cash-strapped state governments might use state owned enterprises as a source of monopoly rents for revenue purposes and for cross-subsidising sectional interests?

    The sale price may not capitalise these monopoly rents. The point of the sale might be to put an end to the monopoly pricing and conflicts of interest between the state government as regulator and the state government as revenue collector.

    Removal of barriers to competition may reduce to sale price to not much at all. How is TAA and Telecom doing these days?

  17. @SJ the evidence to date from the ICAC is bad enough and is from credible sources. no need to use it as a platform to settle political scores.

  18. Things are obviously pretty weird on planet Rose. For clarity, criminal is criminal, regardless of party.

    John, you often set comment limits on people. Would it not be appropriate to set one on Mr Rose.

  19. @Jim Rose The downside of privatisation is that public assets are sold at a discount to often foreign interests and profits are retained by those interests in the form of dividends. Upgrades in the form of capex are passed on to the consumer by way of price increases authorized by a regulatory body that is unable to properly assess those increases. Not sure if the nett effect is of benefit to the private taxpayer.

  20. That is a very thorough summary, JQ.

    The fact is that little will change because the corruption built into our broad political system starts at the bottom.

    The problem arises at local council level where councillors are unpaid operatives. This means that councillors are either social philanthropists, self supporting civic minded citizens, political ladder climbers, or property profiteering opportunists seeking to gain a solid personal equity foothold with inside information on property zone changing. Feel free to apply your own percentage of probabilities.

    My first understanding of how this all works came in the early seventies when I was building my first boat in Brighton le Sands (later moved to Glebe). I read an article in the local paper about a young state back bencher, Laurie Brereton, who was before the courts for taking payola when he was a Botany (I think) Councillor. Having been convicted (I think) he was told to keep a low profile for a number of years. There is the pattern. Unpaid Local government Councillor making ends meet with whatever opportunities present themselves, to state government Member of Parliament where all manner of property temptations present themselves. Eddie Arbied, it seems, was just more ambitious than the rest.

    So as a community, by being stingy and not paying our local councillors, we get what we deserve, politicians with private agendas. Is anyone surprised that free Apps come with advertising??

    I actually found myself having lunch with Laurie Brereton at “no names” restaurant in East Sydney one day some years later and he was a very engaging guy, with excellent taste in wine. He escaped the mire of state politics into the Federal arena, and only others would know how he performed as I was living in NZ for his full term in Canberra. But the pattern of corruption is well intrenched as this latest lancing is proving.

    Needless to say that this structure is not limited to Labour. Councillors of all persuasions are cast in the same mould. Liberals are perhaps just more honest about their greed, correction…need. So what does it mean in the Labour camp? Are the right faction the Hawkes and the left the Angels? Do I care? Well actually I do. The rorting is so in your face, but worse is that self interested greedy people make dumb decisions that ultimately affect millions of people, and that I really do care about.

    The very first thing that needs to happen is that councillors should be paid a living wage so that we get good quality professionals into the role of local government. The notion that local councils don’t really matter is entirely false. Local councils are responsible for everything in the near vacinity of our homes and businesses. Why do we leave this role in the hands of opportunists? people, many of whom, once skilled in the art of manipulating their local area for self gain ulitimately move on to a field or really big opportunities at state level.

  21. BilB,
    Understand your point but not sure paying councilors more is the first thing to do. The first thing required is some amendments to the electoral act (if that’s the right place) to provide more and relevant information on candidates to the voters. 1. Party affiliation, current or prior. 2. Disclosed relationships to other candidates or former councilors. 3. Disclosed potential conflicts of interest. ie. property developer, business owner, etc where their interests are closely connected to council decisions.

    In the most recent council elections here (Vic) we were sent a brochure in the mail with name, photo and brief comment from each candidate. (+ their preferences). They all sounded dismal small minded psychopaths. There may have been a good candiate in there but who’s to tell? Mandatory voting forces a forensic examination of this thin information to divine a least worst voting order. Didn’t even hear the results.

  22. David A,

    The problem with the staus quo is that we are limited in our choices to solicitors, real estate agents, and which ever commercial business people there are at the time who are having a council problem. These are the people who generally have the time and the incentive to spend the time in council meetings. Park Lea Markets in Sydney are (or were) owned by a guy who got onto council long enough to have his stalled development application approved before soon after quiting. Or so the legend has it. So we get lawyers and traders filling roles that should be handled by Engineers, Planners, and Management Specialists. These other people cannot consider filling the roles becasue they are generally regular citizens withou the benefit of money for jam businesses to support them.

    More information will be helpful for one to decide which particular opportunistic solicitor they want to support, it won’t induce the trained professionals that we need in those roles until there is a living wage to support their families.

  23. Why are “engineers, planners and management specialists” just “regular citizens without the benefit of money for jam” while “lawyers and traders” (or was that “solicitors, real estate agents and commercial business people”?) are not? The engineers and “management specialists” I know are all pretty well paid – at least as well as the lawyers. This sounds like some kind of undergraduate prejudice talking.

    Also, if the problem is that councillors don’t get paid enough, and are therefore susceptible to corruption, how can the problem be that councillors are always the people who have “money for jam” businesses? This doesn’t make sense.

  24. I see your confusion, TimM. This does require just a little bit of thought to appreciate the connection between professions that benefit heavily from property transactions and the government body that governs property access, on the one hand, and the need for councillors to be self funded in order to have the time required to be available to perform the task reqired of councillors, on the other.

    Obviously not all Councillors come from property based industries, but I think that a survey of elected government office holders would bear up the suggested assertion.

  25. @rog the upside of privatisation is the foreign interests pay a capital sum equal to the net present value of the future dividends. the foreign interests do not vote so the price capping can be without regard to the risk of losing the votes of the owners.

    CPI-X price capping side-steps most information advantage a monopoly has in cost-padding and monopoly rent concealment.

    A major safeguard against state and local corruption in the USA is it is a federal crime if your organisation receives more than $10,000 in federal funding. This law was introduced under FDR to crack down on state and local corruption in New Deal spending. Federal politicians not want to get the blame for other’s malfeasance.

  26. “Eddie Arbied”
    Oh my God almighty – the true bastard offspring of Eddie Obeid and Mark Arbib- please say it hasn’t come to this!

  27. Oh my God almighty – the true bastard offspring of Eddie Obeid and Mark Arbib- please say it hasn’t come to this!

    Even as we speak they are being bred in the Sussex Street axolotl tanks…

  28. This will not be fixed while a prize of government is being able to extract large sums of money from rent seekers, particularly developers requiring planning approvals, and miners. ALP and union members may do trivia nights and raffles all they like, but the real power lies with the media exposure big money buys. The prizes of government, particularly at the state and local government levels, include provision of congenial employment to foot soldiers. This reality creates cynicism, that in turn feeds corruption.

    Eddie Obeid rose to prominence as the genius behind the Country Labor Party scam to collect regional votes from the ignorant and disconnected. The success of this charade was a significant factor in Carr’s reelection. Obeid’s place in the Sussex St pantheon was therefore assured. His regional connections allowed him to see how easily serious money could be made in the country through deployment of state approval processes.

    In the end we are left with a party in office that has shed all of the political enthusiasm that underpinned its formation. The likes of Newman are swept to office and the whole cycle starts again.

  29. @Hal9000

    And the ALP never admit that they may, possibly, have dropped the ball at some point.

    If they were serious, all they have to do is get back to their ideological social democaratic roots and generally appear to represent the vast majority of Australians. Unfortunately the neo-con cancer will either be terminal or will take an awful lot of very unpleasant treatment to eradicate.

    In Qld. they appear to have decided that they can just accuse the LNP of naughty behaviour (dwarfed by their own over the last few decades) and wait for the Courier-Mail to back them so they can have another go. So far, Newman is bashing them up every time they try to stick something on him.

    Pathetic Government, pathetic opposition, pathetic media.

    We’re doomed aren’t we?

  30. I am surprised that John was surprised at Sinclair Davidson’s comment.

    He thrives on making statements that those at Catallaxy are too ignorant or to lazy to check.

    This time please note only Terje checked to see if he was correct.

    He made a ludicrous comment to the effect Ann Summer’s essay on Andrew Bolt showed Bolt’s parents to be Nazi sympathisers.
    This was shown to be the complete opposite of what she said when again the only person who actually read the essay showed this to be the case.

    Recently he has tried to say Treasury has forecast a 10% rise in electricity charges over a certain period.
    However he has never stated it was a forecast in constant prices not current prices. Which makes a comparison with a rise in current prices quite stupid. however again no-one has actually read the treasury document.

    In essence Davidson is simply a modern version of goebbels. He deliberately feeds his ignorant readers incorrect information.

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