John Robertson – Charming Man, Wrong One for the Job

There were many people eagerly awaiting the Paul Keating interview on 730 tonight, where there were people waiting to see Keating give Robertson a similar bake he gave him in this letter. I was be one of them – and loved his comments on the current Bruce Hawker – promoted “sicko populism”, as well as the “lead weight in the saddlebags” and reducing Robertson’s role as transport minister to just him “jumping on and off buses”. However, I have a different view of “Robbo” than Keating, partially because I am an outsider, partially because I don’t share Keating’s views on privatisation and partially because of Robertson’s pivotal role in the Your Rights at Work campaign.

I’ve had two encounters with Robertson, both of them quite different.  One was seeing him speak at a union council meeting, explaining with great detail how the use of language was going to be key in the Your Rights at Work campaign.  He was in part charming, friendly, professional and not at all ocker, as many union leaders have a tendency of being, even when the situation doesn’t call for it.   He was very persuasive and it was largely due to him that the campaign took flight, at least in NSW.  He seemed to be a better Unions NSW leader than Michael Costa, to use a direct comparison.  It is telling that Costa has been quick to judge Robertson this week, because people have made unfavourable comparisons between the two for a long time – usually to Robertson’s favour.  I am one of them – Costa’s scrapping of the Parramatta – Epping rail link was one of the stupidest acts committed by the government.

The other contact was at a union Christmas function, where I talked to him about the dual wins in NSW in 2007.  In those days, I was a strong ALP supporter and handed out HTVs for Phil Koperberg; as well as ringing late night radio shows (well, the Spoonman’s) to counter a lot of nonsense being spouted about unions and WorkChoices.  He was friendly, genuinely warm and seemed interested, which was not the impression I have gained from other ALP figures.  (Mind you, looking back at that evening, I should have realised that the writing was on the wall for Iemma.  But that’s another story.)

I was not a fan of Morris Iemma, simply because he seemed like a machine man who really didn’t have much of a clue how to lead, rather he responded to disaster after disaster.  Not his own man with his own ideas.  I really don’t like Premiers like that.  So, when he fell, due to his desire to privatise the Government’s electricity companies, I wasn’t too upset.  I was even happier to see Nathan Rees’ rise, simply because we had a Premier who wasn’t a smug patrician more interested in other countries’ history than the day to day drudgery of being a Premier, nor was he obviously a machine man.  Which, of course, was his problem, ultimately.  Hence, I didn’t mind Robertson’s role in that – I still think keeping public ownership of electricity is a good idea.

Keating, of course, doesn’t.  His ability to see the Australian economy as a machine, with little levers and buttons, does not include public ownership of a great deal, including electricity.  Hence the letter, probably written while he had Mahler’s 6th Symphony on repeat, very loud.   I think he put it back on before he appeared on 730.  He is right to identify Robertson’s cynical machinations, because he would know plenty about those, having performed a few activities of his own over the years.

This is all why Robertson, despite his charm, skills and abilities is probably the wrong man for the job.  It’s not because Keating doesn’t like him.  It is because he is too closely linked to the old ways and histories of NSW Labor.  Too connected to the old union networks dominated by the “obscurantist neanderthals” of the ETU, as well as the AWU and NUW, amongst others. The ALP really does need a completely new approach, where the ability to connect with local areas is enhanced by a completely grassroots nomination system.  Trust the local branches, not decide from HQ.

There also needs to be a move away from Sussex Street to a new HQ for Labor, maybe Parramatta, closer to the areas they need to win back.  The leader of this new style of ALP needs to be someone who can meld some the professional organisation skills of old Labor with a return to Labor values not muddied by cynical union politics.

That means Nathan Rees or Carmel Tebbutt.  But the ALP won’t.  They won’t learn from this election for a while.  Mind you, perhaps 3 years as an opposition leader of a rump of a party is what John Robertson deserves.  Part of me has a liking for watching obscurantist neanderthal sicko populism.

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The Greens in the NSW Election – The New Government Election, not the Protest Vote

The coverage of the Greens’ result in the NSW 2011 Election has centred around the apparent calamity of the Greens not winning Balmain and Marrickville, as well as not having a huge swing towards them, as there was in the Federal Election.  Accompanied with that has been the jackalesque cries from the ALP’s hatchet man Luke Foley during the ABC’s coverage and the usual suspects will come out and cackle about the “failure”.  Oh, and Glenn Milne has called Lee Rhiannon a “watermelon“.

However, this wasn’t an election for the Greens to be confident of a big change in its vote. This was not an election, as Richard Glover pointed out this afternoon, to lodge a protest vote, it was one to change a government.   The 2010 Federal Election was more a protest vote election, with progressive voters showing their disgust with the moral vacuum in which elements of the ALP machine work.

The election was summed up for me by working as a booth HTV worker in Cranebrook, one of these amorphous “western suburbs” that the Sydney media refer to, but never visit.  Jackie Kelly, the former member of Lindsay and, amongst other things, Sport Minister in the Howard government, was next to me for more than 2 hours.  She was friendly, down to earth, honest about her time, had some interesting comments on the nature of politics.  I can see why people voted for her.  When she was handing out HTVs, she was saying to voters “vote out the government”, “the only way you can vote out the government”, etc.  She wasn’t pushing the HTVs onto voters – after all, her philosophy is “the customer is always right” and “this is for the 5 percent who don’t know what they are going to do when they pass us”.  She was, however, summing up the mood of the election and hitting that mark with her phrases.  Time and time again.

The Greens have made their name by being a party of protest, of standing up for public institutions, ownership, education as well as the environment.  This has attracted a number of people who want local people protecting local communities from development.  This is why the Greens have successfully gained control over Leichhardt and Marrickville Council and have been considered to have done a good job.   It was with some confidence, then, that the Greens thought they could convert that goodwill into a Lower House seat.  But, goodwill and spending money on big signs isn’t enough sometimes.

There were multiple difficulties for the Greens in both seats, some of them self-inflicted, some not. Balmain, for example, has become more affluent and expensive to live in, a change that mostly brings with it conservative voters, hence the increase in the Liberal vote.  Their increase would also reflect the mood of the electorate to vote in a new government, not just lodge a protest.  It was also the case that Verity Firth is a good politician, likeable, and a well known member of the left.  If she was a faceless machine man like Luke Foley, the Greens would have walked away with the landslide win.

In Marrickville, the Greens also had a popular and powerful member of the left to face.  It helps Carmel Tebbutt that she isn’t her husband, who burns bridges with people almost each time he speaks.  What didn’t help Fiona Byrne’s case was the actions of Marrickville Council to publicly endorse the absurd and pointless boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) policy against Israel.  That plays well to the local Greens, but it doesn’t play well to the wider population.   I too have no great love of Israel – I have long asked why the USA aren’t asking them to show their weapons of mass destruction, considering how preoccupied they have been with those in Iraq and Iran.  However, councils and state governments are not the place to make these hollow, pointless pronouncements.  They show a party that is more willing to waste time on these activities than prosecuting issues that affect the council region.   This hurt Byrne in the end – you can picture a voter, thinking about voting Green for the first time, but then thinking “no, they waste their time on irrelevant stuff”.  The problem with Marrickville, though, was endemic of a wider issue.

The Greens need to attract first time voters – people who haven’t been attracted enough to jump the fence.  The Liberals did it by having policies that were sensible and also being not Labor.  The Greens didn’t have that ability, nor did they sell it very effectively. The Greens should be focusing on promoting deliverables, not making silly videos like this. There were great ideas about rail, light rail, solar thermal power stations, more pre-school.  Yet those messages were drowned by a focus on Marrickville and Balmain, as well as raising money for signs in those areas.  In other words, trying to outdo the big two in visibility. But that isn’t what the Greens’ strength is in.

Their strength is in not being in bed with developers, big tobacco, the AHA, etc.  In being locals, not a machine from central office. It didn’t come across that way with the campaign, with the silly stealing from the Liberals “Start the Change” – the Greens instead said “Real Change for a Change”.  Silly, when the real job of the party is to encourage people to “Change Your Vote, Not Your Values”.

Ultimately, there were gains across many seats to the Greens, such as in the Nepean district, where the campaign was small, local and strategic.  There is a growing sense that the Greens are here to stay, not just as a protest vote.  But if the Greens don’t get a third upper house member from the vote, then there will need to be thought given to spending more money on an upper house campaign and less to winning a couple of state seats –  which gives you ultimately less power than having upper house ones anyway.

The last point I’ll make is that the election for the Greens should be 2015.  The O’Farrell Government can’t possibly deliver to all the areas that need work in 4 years – he will first reward the long suffering voters of the North and North West who have nothing much done for them since the days of Greiner.   And David Clarke will make a Barnaby Joyce style mess somewhere.  Then the voters can be offered a chance to support a party that isn’t Liberal or toxic Labor.  But that party will need to have policies focused on families, jobs, transport, energy, education.  Deliverables.  Not unachievable, symbolic policies that can’t be enacted in the current political environment.

And the party shouldn’t worry about Balmain or Marrickville.  The first Greens seat to be won in NSW is more likely to be Blue Mountains.  And that is very, very winnable.  More so than either of the two targeted.  But that’s for another time.

The Permanent Switch to Vaudeville – The No Carbon Tax Rally

It would be easy to see significance in the No Carbon Tax sideshow rally, where Anglo-Celtic people, largely in their 50s and above, finally got a chance to air their fear and loathing of anything new that may disadvantage them for the sake of the future.   However, it is just another episode in (to borrow Keating’s phrase) the permanent switch to vaudeville that is current Australian politics.  To me, this picture summarises exactly why Tony Abbott’s definition of populism does him no favours for the possibility for the long term leading of Australia…

It’s one of the most unseemly juxtapositions I can recall for the leader of a major political party.  It makes politics less about running a country and more a pantomime, with “Juliar” as the villain.  But it’s also telling that next to the member for Warringah is the member of Mackellar, Bronwyn Bishop (I won’t comment on Mirabella).  They represent seats that are insular and largely Anglo-Celtic, filled with mostly wealthy voters.  Curiously, the sort of people who wouldn’t be seen dead at this type of rally.  It is telling because those two politicians from the Insular Peninsula are being cynical opportunists, using the No Carbon Tax people for their own ends.

The irony is, neither would never want a single one of the ralliers to come around for dinner.  Imagine, for a minute, the man dressed as Gillard, attempting an imitation of her, eating dinner from the fine china at the Bishop residence. No?  Then picture the “ditch the witch” sign plonked on Bronwyn’s front lawn. They might have to paint the sign with red paint to successfully communicate their message.

No, the people at this type of rally aren’t wealthy and seem to be from the outer suburbs of major centres. They would have voted Labor once, or for a local Independent, One Nation, even the Democrats (pre-Stott Despoja) – because they don’t trust new things and they don’t trust governments. Except John Howard, because he didn’t like new things, especially Muslim asylum seekers and this “political correctness”. To a large part, these people who like to think of themselves as the “silent majority” don’t trust university educated people – that is, people who are scientists telling us that climate change is real and something needs to be done about it.  Another point – they would never have voted Green.  They are for new things and foreigners.  It would have been easy enough to do a poll of the protestors in Canberra today, to see how many support gay marriage, solar energy, euthanasia, allowing onshore asylum seeker processing and other progressive policies promoted by the Greens.

Because zero is an easy number to count.

Abbott does himself no favours associating with people who have been writing furious letters to governments, ringing Alan Jones and contributing to Andrew Bolt’s blog.  They are rusted on voters for his maverick anti-government on everything tactics.  Pictures like that should appall any swinging voters because it smacks of extremism – something Abbott has spent over a year working to eliminate from his public profile.

NSW Election – The ALP Rout and the Future

The picture of Liberal v Labor in the Sydney based electorates has long been based around the Parramatta River – as in, north of the river is Liberal, south of the river is Labor.  As in this graphic –

The “south of the river” used to also refer to the western suburbs as well.  This is somewhat ironic for a Labor Government that largely ignored the west and south-western suburbs in their building of infrastructure, health spending and paucity of public education spending in those areas.  Even in 2007 the outer suburban seats voted for Morris Iemma, even if they had voted for John Howard in 2004.

Now, if the odds on Sportsbet are to be believed, the map will look something like this:

This is my work with Illustrator’s paint brush tool, guessing which seats are which.  So, if I’m wrong with some of the colouring, please forgive me.  But it’s the general picture of what Sydney’s seats will look like after next Saturday.  The ALP would be, after this election, be clinging to their Eastern Suburbs old-school working class ALP seats, the heavily multicultural seats in the inner South West, and the poorer working class seats in the West and outer South West.

But where will the re-invention come for the ALP?  Let’s hope for everyone’s sake in and outside the party it doesn’t come from the same sources as it did – the NUW, for example, gave us Karyn Paluzzano and gave support to Paul Gibson.  The AWU gives the country Paul Howes.  Then we had the Fairfield district and Joe Tripodi, whose influence spread like a toxic oil spill throughout Sydney.

The ALP should go back to being a grassroots party, listening to the separate electorates again, being good local fighters for local issues.  The Liberal Government will probably be little better than the ALP at delivering infrastructure to their new western and south western Sydney seats.  They seem at this stage willing to reward the North Western seats for their loyalty and keen to make the same mistakes in terms of urban sprawl “planning” as they made in the late 80s and 90s.  When those failures occur and when voters discover that the local Liberal candidates probably aren’t very good at delivering, then the ALP will actually need to know what people want in those outer suburban seats – and ignore Sussex Street sometimes.  That would be a start.

Final comment – it has been suggested that the situation could be worse for the ALP – imagine if the Green won Heffron and the losses in the inner city were greater, it could look like this:

What a map that would be.

 

No Carbon Tax Under the Government I Lead – Deliberate Tactic by the Enabler

It has been bugging me for a while.  I didn’t see the promise by Julia Gillard that we wouldn’t have a carbon tax before the August Federal Election.  When Tony Abbott continually called her on that promise, I wondered where he got the promise from.  It wasn’t a widely circulated or promoted promise by the ALP during that dire campaign.  I had thought for a long time that it was a silly thing to promise, considering that a carbon price was on the table and a carbon tax is as good a way as any to apply that.

However, I saw Gillard start speaking on Q&A the other night, revealing how she embedded a critique of the madness of the tea party, et al, inside a speech about the greatness and boldness of Americans.  You can’t say anything to Americans by criticising them.  By highlighting the “boldness” of the American national self-image, she was striking at the insularity of the current forces attacking Obama and his agenda.  It then struck me that she really does have two meanings to a lot of what she says.  It must be a lawyer thing.

I then turned to the phrase “No Carbon Tax Under a Government I Lead” – and it took me to a place where you have a Prime Minister who could have phrased that in any number of ways – “never have one”, “it’s not a part of our philosophy”, “our goal is towards an ETS”.  No, she said a government I lead.  She was leaving the door open for a new parliament where she knew she would have to negotiate with the Greens.

The ETS “negotiation” was pretty poor and demonstrated Rudd’s inability to compromise or realise how meagre his suggestion was.  The fact that the Liberal Party – well, the ones who believe that climate change is actually happening and want to do something – agreed with it demonstrated how meagre it was.  Like many of Rudd’s schemes, they were wrecked on the rocks that was Rudd’s inability to be an enabler.

Cue Gillard and her reputation for being an enabler (or a fixer, as Annabel Crabb characterises her here).  She knew that she would have to negotiate with the Greens to get an ETS at some stage and also realised that the Greens would increase their presence in the new Senate.  Therefore, she makes the comment “Under the Government I Lead” – it makes her look Prime Ministerial, plus it left her with the opportunity to turn around and say during the new parliament “I lead the Government, BUT I don’t control the senate, and the Greens are forcing us to adopt a carbon tax, we don’t want one”.

And now we are seeing her say that.  Blaming the word “tax” on the Greens, hoping that the idea of taxing carbon will stick with the Greens until the next election.  Sticking a party with the word “tax” in Australia is like sticking a “kick me” sticker on the back of the new boy in the school.  Just ask the Howard government after the 98 election.  It’s not without accident that another of the “enablers” in the new cabinet, Greg Combet, is assiduously avoiding the “tax” word, sticking to the line that the price on carbon is the desired outcome and that eventually we will have the Labor Party’s preferred conservative option of an ETS.

So it come to pass that at the Don Dunstan talk tonight that she is outlining precisely what she said and why she said it.  As well, taking a well aimed swipe at the targets many people have been wanting her to swipe for a long time – the parrot, Alan Jones, the street corner soap box ranter, Andrew Bolt and the shocking old cynic Piers Akerman.

This is the real Julia, the Julia of realpolitik, the lawyer, the enabler.  And one who will now act to isolate the Greens as the carbon taxers and the ALP as the sensible, conservative ETSers.

Finally, the timing of the announcement is also very interesting – it could have occurred at any time between now and July, when the Greens assume their real power.  But it happened now, in the lead up to the NSW State Election – an election where the ALP will cope the hiding for the ages, largely due to the poor management of infrastructure by Bob Carr and his penny pinching treasurer Michael Egan.  Gillard and her advisers would know that a carbon tax announcement would have a negative impact on the Labor vote – but that hardly matters on this occasion.  What does matter is that it will mostly likely have an impact on the Green vote, despite the fact the carbon tax has no relevance in the state poll.  And make no mistake, there are many NSW Labor Right operatives who would hate the Greens more than the Liberals.  Yes, it’s nuts, but that’s the NSW Right.

Transport Blog 2 – The M5 Widening

In today’s NSW election ferris wheel (or is that hamster wheel), we had the inevitable motorway proposal.  The only bit of tension around this announcement was whether the Liberals would commission an M4 East Tollway, an M5 Duplication Tollway or a widened M5, with an extension to the toll.  Each of them no cost to the government, instead a cost to the motorist.  Though, it has been left unsaid whether the Liberals will continue the M5 Cashback, that scheme started by the Carr Government when it realised it couldn’t honour its 1995 election promise of scrapping the tolls completely.  As has been pointed out by Kristina Keneally, it’s $680 million for a $350 million road.  Either way, the taxpayers will probably pay for it.

Plus it’s a road widening that will be next to useless for the road users of the South West. I remember driving to Greystanes each day from the Lower Mountains in the late 1990s when the M4 was widened to three lanes. It was heavenly when the third lane was opened – the trip was cut by 20 minutes.  That isn’t the case anymore.  The daily carpark stretching out to the Wallgrove Rd exit in Eastern Creek is testament to the oft repeated fact that widening motorways do not work at managing traffic flows in the long term – instead they just attract more cars.

In addition, the chief problem with the M5 is not the section from Camden Valley Way to King George’s Rd.  While it has intermittent traffic delays along that length, what causes the snarls each morning is the 2 lane each way M5 East tunnel – another Labor Party brainwave.  While the new motorway lanes may increase speeds along the motorway slightly – and make it easier for people to go to Liverpool or Bankstown – there is still that giant bottle stopper continuing to sit there, taunting anyone wanting to go to the city or Port Botany.

This is lazy transport planning by a Liberal Party whose operatives would rarely even drive on the M5 in the morning or afternoon – after all, it’s been a while since there was a Liberal MP in a seat near the M5.  Mind you, there was also ample evidence that the Labor Government had stopped listening to its Macarthur region MPs a while ago.

That will all change soon – and they will discover within 1 year of the new motorway lane opening that they will clog up once more, leading to another expensive bandaid solution, rather than a long term helpful policy like an additional express train line from Campbelltown to the City.

The last part of my transport blog series will be completely different in tone – it will be a positive solution for the long term.  Stay tuned.

Transport in Western Sydney – Bigger than Asylum Seekers

The Federal Election campaign raised the spectre of “Western Sydney” repeatedly – that people out in these suburbs have a morbid fear of mortgage rate rises, electricity bill rises and asylum seekers.  That was the way we were reported – and that theme is being repeated in the current election campaign.  “Western Sydney” is an amorphous, vaguely stupid lump.  It isn’t.  And yes, while there is concern about cost of living, there is one issue that gets people out here more riled up than most – transport.  It is the number one issue out here – and, I believe, causes the concerns about issues like that of asylum seekers, simply because many successful migrants add to the pressures brought to bear to the infrastructure.  The infrastructure run down by successive Sydney governments that have very few clues about places west of Parramatta.

I grew up in Greystanes, about 15 minutes west of Parramatta.  We were next to a vast corridor of land that was supposed to be the M4, but lay fallow for more than 20 years – thanks to Robert Askin, then Neville Wran not doing anything about it.  We moved away from there long before it took Nick Greiner’s ascendancy to have the idea of initiating a public-private partnership to build the missing link and charge a toll for it.  The same went for the M5 and the M2 – all expensive alternatives to boosting railway lines and public transport spending.

Those three morning carparks stand as monuments to Liberal Party blinkered thinking about motorways, not developing the railway system.  The M2, in particular, was a spectacularly absurd deal, in that it prevented heavy rail being built as “opposition” for many years.  This is why I laugh when I hear about Barry O’Farrell now promising the North Western Heavy Rail.

Not that the ALP was any better.  In the years after Bob Carr’s elevation to the job of Premier, the only change that occurred to Penrith / Blue Mountains train services was that they got slower, in order to fit “on time running” figures.  We, in reality, saw very little impact from Carr’s time, except that we saw the Olympics being run, our debt being paid off and poker machine revenues rising.  I also went to his attempt to make Sydney more European – his “Museums at Night” folly – which required a rush to the last train out of Sydney in order to get home.  Otherwise, however, the train carriages were largely the same ones as were built in the 70s and the M4 toll was removed.  That’s about it. No public bus services (except the TWay from Parramatta to Liverpool), little consideration of how to get around the suburbs that added their stamp duty to Michael Egan’s bottom line.  All we have got are the occasional Metrobus – buses, buses, buses.  It is a repeating refrain from a government to whom light rail and new heavy rail has been like garlic to a vampire.  Not often enough, slow during peak times.

It’s hard to see the new lot being any better, in terms of getting new trains, duplicating the western line, duplicating the Richmond line and those other desperately needed works.  It is even less likely that we will see any forward infrastructure planning to ameliorate the expansion of the western urban sprawl favoured by O’Farrell.  After all, people in his area don’t want high rise apartments near train stations and public bus stops – so we will have the cop the new houses with just single lane roads to service them.

Perhaps if journalists saw the massive traffic queues, saw the pathetic public transport options here, they would understand it’s transport that is the big issue here – bigger than asylum seekers.