When Unelected Factions become Puppeteers of Government - Ch 3

Chapter 3: Carr’s policy pendulum had reached its apex

Retired Premier Neville Wran described Carr as "the very model of a modern Labor premier, an articulate and powerful public performer who identified himself with the contemporary policy issues of education and the environment."

Media commentary following Carr's retirement noted that Carr’s legacy was characterised by his successful Olympics (‘the best games ever’) and massive investment in capital works into hospitals, child protection services, improvements to education standards and literacy rates, in paying of the States debt. Most notably, Carr’s legacy is his commitment to protecting the natural, creating 350 new national parks, saving the South East forests and introducing native vegetation reforms.

Carr is also credited for industrial relations reform, that NSW was the first state to apologise for the Stolen Generations and that his Government has stood with asbestos victims seeking compensation from James Hardie.

In hindsight, possibly the pinnacle of Carr’s Premiership was the first day of the Sydney Olympics, Saturday 16th September 2000. Carr recalls:

“I remember the first day of the Sydney Olympics, when Helena and I strolled up Circular Quay, after the start of the first Games event on the harbour, and we met Australians from very many backgrounds, united in pride in their city and excitement with the previous night's opening ceremony.

They were old Australians and new Australians and I felt for the first time the sheer honour of representing these people and of being able to make decisions on their behalf at this time, perhaps the happiest time in Australian history.”

These were NSW’s glory days. A new century, a buoyant economy, a big head; Carr’s home town Sydney all spruced up to host the Olympic Games on the world stage.

Carr, a former journalist, was an adept manager of the media. He was able to anticipate and head off potentially damaging issues and close down debate. Although some of Labor’s internal debate and threats presented by a media-driven policy agenda, make it into the public realm. From 2004 as Labor fell into a policy hole, Carr had allowed NSW Labor to become publically criticised for failures in the State’s public infrastructure (rail safety, roads, hospitals, electricity) as a result of poor long-term planning and economic growth across the State was starting to slow as a result. By 2004, basking in the Olympic glow had allowed the State to lag economically. The Waterfall Train Derailment in early 2003 had focused media attention on the problems with the NSW passenger rail system.

The Waterfall Train Derailment, 31-Jan-03, involved a 4-car commuter train derailed south of Waterfall Station.

The NSW Opposition had highlighted the State’s worsening economic conditions, systemic problems with Sydney’s trains and with the health system. Opposition Leader John Brogden proposed Carr’s reason for quitting:

"So, as he looked to the next 20 months, I think he realised that things were going to get worse and not better, so as a clever politician he picked his time to go."

Daily newspapers and radio shock jocks are unrelenting in their criticism of government and can wear anyone down over time. Certainly, public feeling had turned against Carr, but the Sydney media have rarely been kind to NSW governments as it doesn’t sell papers or attract ratings.

Carr came under direct attack from Sydney Radio 2UE’s popular announcer, Alan Jones, who Carr labelled as a Liberal Party pamphleteer. Carr had instructed his ministerial staff to monitor Jones meticulously to prepare same-day responses and action plans to address any issue raised.

A year after Carr’s resignation, he was interviewed by the ABC’s Maxine McKew about his time in office. Carr said of the Sydney Morning’s Herald’s campaign against him labelled ‘The Great Carr Crash’:

"Oh yeah, it was barking mad. In ten years as Premier we allocated 61 billion to new capital works and throughout all that period the Fairfax media attacked me for spending too much money. Now under this editor, they switch their line.”

Political columnist Shelly Savage at the time of Carr’s resignation observed, that Carr’s later-term style was typified by a more cautious policy approach, letting the ball drop in regard to funding the public transport system.

Columnist, Michael Duffy, at the time of Carr’s resignation reflected on the rail tragedies of Glenbrook and Waterfall under Carr’s premiership, the series of devastation bushfires across the state, the mismanagement of national parks and the increased unaffordability and unavailability of housing across Sydney.

Carr’s environmental legacy was undermined by his signing of regional forest agreements with the Howard federal government respectively in 2000 and 2001 allowing logging in old growth native forests on the State’s North East, Southern and Eden hinterlands.

Perhaps the single act that undermined Carr’s legacy, and in particular his credited environmental legacy, was his undermining of environmental protection legislation on the introduction of the infamous Part 3A environmental amendment Bill in the weeks before his resignation.

Carr’s then Minister for Planning, Craig Knowles, introduced the Bill in the Legislative Assembly on 27th May 2005. The Bill effectively changed the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act to allow the Minister of Planning to overrule environmental restrictions on any development proposal the Minister deemed a ‘major project’ or ‘critical infrastructure’. So it was a transfer of absolute planning power to the Minister for Planning and a removal of public transparency, local accountability and consultation and all appeal rights regarding land use development through the State.

Clearly this law played into the hands of the powerful corporate developer lobby which had become strong backers of the NSW Right in political donations. It was an early sign that the NSW Right was reacting to the slowdown in the NSW economy. The government’s fastest and easiest way to reinvigorate growth was to facilitate development by simply changing the planning laws to overcome environmental compliance hurdles.

Knowles in his speech introducing the bill two months before Carr resigned said:

"There is no doubt that this bill dramatically improves the climate in which to do business in this State. The bill implements important elements of this Government's planning reform program—a program which is overhauling our planning system and cutting red tape at all levels…"

And so upon ‘Part 3A’ Bill being introduced to Parliament on 27th May 2005 so began a retrograde chapter in NSW political history. The NSW Right in order to achieve its end of economic growth was now prepared to undermine the democratic planning process and do as Graham Richardson once coined, “whatever it takes!”.

The Labor factions had also become critical of Carr to the point of seeking vengeance, but that is a topic for the next chapter.

‘the best games ever’

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[1] The Age Editorial, ‘Closing a big chapter in the Bob Carr story’, 28th July 2005, http://www.theage.com.au/news/editorial/closing-a-big-chapter-in-the-bob-carr-story/2005/07/27/1122143904728.html
[2] Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Bob Carr quits as Premier’, by Anne Davies, 27 July 2005, http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/bob-carr-quits-as-premier/2005/07/27/1122143879338.html,
[3] Bob Carr’s Speech, (27th July 2005), The Age, http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/bob-carrs-speech/2005/07/27/1122143898973.html
[4] ABC News Online, ‘Carr quits’,27th July 2005, http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200507/s1423278.htm
[5] Reporter: Samantha Hawley (Reporter), ‘Sunny day sparks Bob Carr's resignation’, Wednesday 27th July 2005, ABC Radio ‘PM’ Programme, http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2005/s1423837.htm
[6] Quentin Dempster, ‘Media rules in the court of Carr’, 2005, The Griffith Review Edition 3, Griffith University & the author, http://www.griffithreview.com/edition-3/116-reportage/490.html
[7] Samantha Hawley, loc. cit., http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200507/s1423278.htm
[8] Quentin Dempster, loc.cit., http://www.griffithreview.com/edition-3/116-reportage/490.html
[9] Maxine McKew (interviewer), ‘Bob Carr: Making History’, Sunday 13th August 2006, ABC Radio ‘Sunday Profile programme, http://www.abc.net.au/sundayprofile/stories/s1713499.htm
[10] Shelly Savage, ‘Bob Carr, erudite and urbane?’, 29th July 2005, On Line Opinion, http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=3732&page=1
[11] Michael Duffy, ‘Green Legacy a Black Mark’, 30th July 2005, The Sydney Moring Herald, http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/green-legacy-a-black-mark/2005/07/29/1122144018993.html.
[12] Australian Government, Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, http://www.daff.gov.au/rfa/publications/annual-reports/nsw/regional_forest_agreement_for_southern_new_south_wales_annual_report
[13] Nature Conservation Council of NSW, NCC Home >Coastal & Urban Sustainability > Planning & Law Reform Major Projects (Part 3A), http://www.nccnsw.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1712&Itemid=871
[14] Joe Sammaras, Monday, 23rd November 2009, ‘The NSW Right is a dead, dead duck’, Crikey, http://www.crikey.com.au/2009/11/23/the-nsw-right-is-a-dead-dead-duck/

[online material accessed 9th June 2010]

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].