Saturday, February 23, 2008

Saturday Morning Musings - NSW Politics

Photo: Sydney Morning Herald. Flanked by Verity Firth and Nathan Rees who will take on his ministerial responsibilities, NSW Premier Morris Iemma announces the retirement of NSW Minister Phil Koperberg because of ill-health.

I am not sure whether NSW Premier Morris Iemma should feel cursed or blessed at having won the last state election. Certainly the troubles keep rolling.

I do not know how to start explaining the current position in NSW in a way that would make sense to readers outside NSW. I have never seen anything like it. The nearest equivalent I can think of is the medieval papacy.

Phil Koperberg became something of a hero in NSW in his role as head of the Rural Fire Service, was elected to the NSW Parliament at the last election in March 2007 and immediately appointed to the ministry.

There were some tensions in the appointment at the beginning because of strained relations between Mr Koperberg and another of the newly appointed ministers, Mr Paul Gibson. However, Mr Gibson was sacked on the day of his appointment because of alleged assault on former NSW Government minister Sandra Nori between 1988 and 1991 when they were in a relationship. Police subsequently concluded that there was insufficient evidence to lay charges.

A little later Mr Koperberg himself was stood down from the ministry because of allegations that he had assaulted his then wife some twenty years ago. Following an investigation, police decided that no charges should be laid and Mr Koperberg was reinstated. However, his health had collapsed under the strain and he retired to the back-bench.

Mr Koperberg's resignation was just another blow to a reeling Government.

In the Hunter, the child sex charges against another former minister have now reached court. Further south at Wollongong, the inquiry into the alleged activities of a council planning officer has embroiled the Government in a widening web of sex and corruption allegations involving the ALP and certain developers with strong party connections.

Neil, who knows the area well, has provided a personal perspective on this evolving story. Once again Premier Iemma has announced that action will be taken against wrong-doers, with this morning's Daily Telegraph suggesting that another minister is about to be sacked.

These various problems follow a series of failures in public administration.

Problems at North Shore Hospital, including the sad cases of the woman who miscarried in the toilet in the emergency department as well as the school kid who died from the wrong medication, led first to a Parliamentary Inquiry and then a full public inquiry into the health system.

Just when the NSW Health Minister thought that the worst might be over or at least deferred, construction faults at the newly constructed Bathurst Base Hospital first stopped operations, then led to a review of other construction contracts.

In parallel with the health inquiry, problems in the child welfare system led to another public inquiry, one that has begun to paint an uncomfortable picture of system weaknesses.

In Sydney, development problems led to the expensive cancellation of the integrated ticketing contract that was meant to bring together the various public transport modes into a single ticketing system.

Major legal action is now pending, with each side blaming the other. In the meantime, the Government has been forced to buy second hand ticketing machines from Brisbane. There is some irony in the apparent fact that ERG, the company contracted to build the integrated system, appears to be the only company that can recondition the new machines.

All this has affected the very business of Government itself, the day to day operations across portfolios on which the state depends.

The Sydney dailys have become the defacto opposition in the state, subjecting the Government to a withering scrutiny. This sets up a cycle of criticism and response. In the meantime, other things don't get done.

You would think in all this that the NSW Opposition should be riding high. It is not. The reason is that it too is locked into a cycle of criticism and response.

What will happen out of all this?

In the absence of a Labor implosion, the Government's large majority means that we are locked in until the next election in March 2011. Given this, my best guess is that we will have a new premier within a few months. I suspect that Deputy Premier John Watkins is simply biding his time.

Will this make a real difference? In the absence of substantive change, my feeling would be no because the problems are systemic.

Could Premier Iemma turn all this round? In theory yes, but only if he completely changed approach.

Will he? I don't think so because he needs to access and accept alternative views, and I cannot see this happening.


Lexcen said...

I've been trying to unravel the complexities of the sex and corruption story in the news at the moment. I think that instead I'll wait for the inevitable TV series that will certainly have lots of gratuitous images of bare breasts to satisfy a discerning public. I hope you're enjoying Underbelly because as a Victorian, I'm forbidden to watch it.

Jim Belshaw said...

Lexcen, I haven't seen Underbelly because it's not on my girls' watchlist and they control the TV! I did want to watch it.

A NSW story would have lots of sex, plenty of bare breasts, but not much plot. I think that got lost some time ago.