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Tom Dusevic Grovels to Libs

February 28, 2011

Tom Dusevic

His two-page article in the Weekend Australian reads like a job application for a chief of staff in a NSW Coalition government. Tom Dusevic is a journalist I’ve taken issue with before. I had to rebuke him when he was at The Financial Review for saying that the Carr government spent too little on infrastructure and was too focused on debt retirement. I reminded him that his newspaper had rebuked me during my 10 years as Premier for doing precisely the opposite: spending too much on infrastructure ($ 61 billion) and being too slow about debt retirement (a mere $10 billion). ” That was when the paper was controlled by neo-liberals,” was his defense.

In The Australian he began by praising as “authentic” a recently deceased Liberal member of the Legislative Council, Frank Calabro. Why Calabro is singled out for this elaborate panegyric is passing strange. I could nominate numerous former MPs from the Labor side, successful immigrants like Calabro, who have had far bigger impact.

The best explanation is that Dusevic has a deep sympathy for the Coalition and its causes, confirmed by the reverential slew of quotes from former Liberal Premier Nick Greiner larded into his piece. It seems to be directed at the thesis that too many MPs today are former staffers with nondescript backgrounds on the fringes of politics and union activity. This is fed by quotes from my good friend Rodney Cavalier whose own background (ministerial staffer, union official, public servant) absolutely fits the template. Rod would agree.

This line of attack is now congealing as an impenetrable cliché never balanced by any of the countervailing evidence – like, for example, that one of the most authentic politicians of our time, P J Keating, had an entirely nondescript background before clambering into the House of Representatives at the age of 25. He had been research officer for the Municipal Employees’ Union while working to get the numbers for preselection for Blaxland and had no other career. Big deal.

Lionel Murphy and Neville Wran – by these tests – could be dismissed as lawyers who made their living at the industrial bar with briefs from unions, not in the tougher sprawl of the law that produced Robert Menzies or Garfield Barwick. So what? It is what the politician is that makes the difference, not what he was.

I’ve always thought Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson knowledgeable, thoughtful Labor politicians – authentic, if you like. The fact that their fathers were in politics – is this the most important thing about them? The other flaw in the line of argument is the assumption – it’s one that Cavalier rests heavily on – there was some kind of golden age in which a noble working class political party recruited its leadership out of popular ballots, rivalled only in their clarity and cleanliness by the Lyceum of Aristotle. There was no machine, no domination of party bureaucrats, no ugly argument fracturing the paradisal condition of nascent laborism.

You only have to read William Morris Hughes’ memoir, Crusts and Crusades to know that there were bitter pre-selection disputes with allegations of rorted ballots in the first generation of the Labor Party. The myth of a descent from an innocent time, a golden age of working class politics, is as old as Vere Gordon Childe’s, How Labor Governs (1923) which argued the decline set in after the very first experience of Labor government – The Fall from Eden.

Dusevic throws in the observation that there were no policies out of the 16 years of Labor government in NSW. He wouldn’t know. But for the record these are a few that stand in contrast to the erratic patchwork of policy making in the previous seven years of Coalition government. And they only apply to my 10 years:

• The systematic implementation of policies to render NSW policing corruption-resistant instead of corruption-prone, in the wake of the Royal Commission into police corruption that we forced on the Fahey government;

• Leading Australia in raising private sector capital for public works through private public partnerships in roads, school-building and maintenance, hospitals and rail maintenance;

• New policy architecture for forestry, water and native vegetation including the first serious pricing of water and allocation of the first environmental flows in the state’s history;

• The best Australian practice for evaluating forests and restructuring forestry operations, enabling the creation of 522 new national parks;

• Australia achieving its Kyoto targets because of the ban on clearing native vegetation in NSW and the world’s first carbon trading scheme, the 2003 NSW GGAS scheme, described by Federal Opposition spokesman Greg Hunt as the best in the world ;

• The largest package of tort law reform that came to provide a new model for workers’ compensation, medical indemnity, public liability and third party motor accident insurance and producing savings for state and local government budgets and a fall in the price of insurance products;

• Reform of the NSW curriculum that rendered it, by general consensus, the most rigorous in Australia and its students the highest performing in most tests;

• In urban planning, the highest level of urban consolidation achieved in Australia with 70 percent of new homes coming in built-up areas compared with 50 percent in Melbourne. The enforcement of new regulations on residential flat design; and the nation’s highest standards for energy and water conservation applied to all new housing;

• The country’s largest urban road project (M7 Westlink) the country’s largest urban rail project (Epping to Chatswood) and the country’s longest bus transit ways, reinforcing the highest percentage of public transport use of any Australian capital and nearly double that in Melbourne.

I could go on. But I think I’ve made the point that this knee-jerk response – “no policies in 16 years of Labor” – says more about lazy journalism than anything else. If your sympathies are locked into the Coalition, why bother with fact checking. Perhaps Bill Clinton was right when he said nothing he ever saw in government was as bad as the reporting of it.

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