O’Farrell’s Standing: Popular and Criticised
When it was elected I made two predictions about the public perception of the coalition government in NSW. One was that the first polls would show very buoyant levels of approval for both the government and Premier Barry O’Farrell. The second was that editorials would quickly begin to criticise the government for not pursuing bold economic reforms.
The second has come to pass before the first. The new Premier early last month announced he would retrospectively cut the 60 cent solar rebate tariff to 40 cents. There was fierce criticism from the 100 000 people who’d signed contracts at 60 cents for five years. The government then said it would consider “hardship payments.”
Yesterday the government gave up the fight and said because they wouldn’t win in the upper house, they would not proceed.
On the issue the government has gone from being Thatcherite stern to being hand wringingly consultative. As The Australian put it, “Before shirking the issue, surely he could have forced a vote in the upper house…. The double backflip has been completed all too easily. Given the Premier’s massive mandate, voters might have welcomed a bit more of a splash.”
There is a similar echo about the government’s retreat from restricting public sector pay rises for police. Nurses, teachers, and fire fighters are not going to accept that they can live with pay increases half those going to police. This backflip will only inflame public sector unions – fire fighters particularly – over the issue of “comparative wage justice’, always a neuralgic argument in Australian industrial relations.
Conservative-leaning commentators will soon congeal around the verdict that O’Farrell is no Stockdale, nor even a Greiner. This only confirms that he inherited a state with a AAA rating and a low level of debt. Voters do not believe they warrant savage treatment. In any case, Barry O’Farrell is by instinct cautious and centrist.