When unelected factions become puppeteers of government - Ch 2

CHAPTER 2: Carr’s Departure out-manoeuvred the Faction

The rise to effective control of NSW Labor, by its then Centre Unity faction, emanated from the days of uncertainty and a power vacuum created when Premier Bob Carr suddenly quit mid-way through a stable NSW Labor’s third consecutive term in office. A political vacuum is a dangerous situation, one just shy of relative anarchy, and a magnet for Machiavellians; a vulnerable time for governance.

Perhaps it was the milestone of being ten years in the job, following in the footsteps of Neville Wran, who had also spent ten years in the top job. Carr after all did serve in the Neville Wran government as Minister for Planning and the Environment. Carr made the decision to retire reflecting on a sparkling Sydney day at the weekend in consultation with his wife, Helena. The following Wednesday 27th July 2005, out of the blue, Carr announced his decision. A week later, Carr was suddenly gone from the premiership, and from being the member for Maroubra, and from parliament and from public life. In NSW, a chapter of stable leadership was suddenly over.

Carr’ departure was a shock to NSW and to his colleagues. Perhaps only his wife had known of his decision in advance. He had informed Federal Labor Opposition Leader Kim Beazley and a few staff members before informing his Cabinet colleagues that morning. But Carr’s declaration was quite consistent with Carr’s leadership style. Carr has always been his own man, forthright, even arrogant and even egotistical, but never anyone’s puppet politician. Carr was renowned for being a charismatic leader, intellectual, hard working, cautious yet stubborn and secretive.

But who is perfect, not least in the context of he unnatural demands of politics and media?

As Victorian Premier Steve Bracks pointed out at the time, Bob Carr was not only an outstanding Premier of New South Wales for ten years… “it also should be remembered that he was the leader of the Labor Party before that for seven years…so he's had 17 years as leader of the Labor Party in New South Wales, 10 of those years as Premier, seven years as opposition - he's done an outstanding job."

Yet perhaps the hints were there. Labor’s handle on public infrastructure was waning, the critics were never tiring, but perhaps Carr was and perhaps his motivation was. Carr had said that ten years was a "long time" in office and he had passed Neville Wran's record as the longest-serving State Premier.

Perhaps Anne Davies, the Herald’s State Political Correspondent at the time, was right when she concluded that “the sun had gone out of the job for him’. But then in his resignation speech Carr proclaimed, “there is never a perfect time in these things.”

On 30th June, a month before Carr’s resignation, Federal Labor Senator for NSW, John Faulkner, (a prominent Left Faction member) in launching Bernie Lagan's book, ‘Loner: Inside A Labor Tragedy’ accused NSW Labor of a ‘gladiatorial culture’:

“In NSW, a combative organisational culture has at times turned toxic. When maintaining factional power is put ahead of civility, decency, honesty, humanity or even legality, then bullying and thuggery become lazy substitutes for debate. Behaviour unacceptable outside NSW Labor is all too often rewarded within it....As an active member of the NSW Labor tribe; I know how hard it can be to draw a clear distinction between the ritualised conflict of Party forums and the real world.”

So this is what Carr was up against internally within NSW Labor. Lagan’s book sounds like an insightful read. Labor factional infighting within the Left and the Right, ambitious backbenchers denied cabinet portfolios, a malicious media. After 17 years as party leader yet no relaxation of politics, there was probably a hint of reasoning in Carr’s resignation speech in which he said:

“Sharing this past weekend with Helena - one of those beautiful Sydney weekends - I and she were impressed by the notion that you could spend more of your time in a nice way, and we decided that time had come.” And quoting from his hero, Abraham Lincoln, Carr said he was bowing out of politics "with malice for none, with charity for all".

Perhaps similar insight could have been read into the praise offered by Western Australia Premier at the time, Dr Geoff Gallop, who said Carr's absence will be felt. "He's been a mentor to all of us, he's a leading figure in the Australian Labor Party and you know that in New South Wales he'll be sorely missed."

In any case, after seventeen years of party leadership, it was Carr’s prerogative to step down and do something different. Apparently, he had no job offers at the time either in federal politics or in private enterprise, although he wasn’t idle. Eleven weeks later on 10 October 2005, Macquarie Bank announced he had been appointed to the Bank as a part time consultant. His role was to “advise the Investment Banking Group from time to time, on policy and strategic issues, both domestic and international, and with particular focus on Mr. Carr's specialist knowledge of the United States, China and Europe.”

Despite Carr’s haste to resign and leave politics, he felt he had responsibly left at a time convenient to the NSW Government and with it in a sound position.

"They'll go to that election with an unprecedented $37 billion infrastructure plan and the state's finances in excellent shape. "Whoever that leader is, they will have my full support, Carr said." “The Government's got a big majority. The Government's got a buffer in the Parliament beyond that majority. The Government, even after a difficult mid-term period, is in a winning position in the polls. The Government's got a $37 billion four-year capital works program that it's implementing.”

These are good solid advantages for this Government, and the electorate might well find it refreshing to have another man or woman in the job, after having had me there for 10 years.”

But as for succession planning, Carr distanced himself. By this time he had decidedly severed his attachment to the Party and its future. Carr said on his departure “I'm not going to baptise a successor. That would be, by any measure, inappropriate. I leave that to my parliamentary colleagues. "One of my trusted Cabinet colleagues will have 20 months to establish him or herself before the election," he said.

And so it was at this moment that Carr left his Cabinet colleagues to fend for themselves. Well aware of the brewing factional scheming, Carr would have realised he was abandoning his colleagues to the factional wolves.

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[1] Samantha Hawley (Reporter), ‘Sunny day sparks Bob Carr's resignation’, Wednesday 27th July 2005, ABC Radio, ‘PM’ programme (transcript), http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2005/s1423837.htm
[2] ABC News Online, ‘Carr quits’, Wednesday 27th July 2005, http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200507/s1423278.htm
[3] Anne Davies (State Political Correspondent),‘After a decade, the sun went out’, 27th July 2005, Sydney Morning Herald, http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/after-a-decade-the-sun-went-out/2005/07/27/1122143885191.html
[4] Bob Carr’s Speech, 27th July 2005, The Age, http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/bob-carrs-speech/2005/07/27/1122143898973.html
[5] Gary Sauer-Thompson, sauer-thompson.com (weblog),‘Political Truth Telling’, 30th June 2005, http://www.sauer-thompson.com/archives/opinion/003380.php
[6] ABC News Online, loc. cit., http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200507/s1423278.htm
[7] Macquarie Bank Limited, Matthew Russell, Public Relations, 10th October 2005, http://www.macquarie.com.au/au/about_macquarie/media_centre/20051010a.htm
[8] ABC News Online, loc. cit., http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200507/s1423278.htm
[9] Samantha Hawley, loc. cit., http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2005/s1423837.htm
[10] Ibid, http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2005/s1423837.htm

[online material accessed 6th June 2010].

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