Friday, September 05, 2008

Hi Karl, what did you do to NSW's premier?

Karl Bitar was a union member in my office when I was the delegate. Friendly and easy-going, he was compliant in union activities, but showed no specific interest, although he was apparently ex-president of Young Labor (or somesuch) in New South Wales.

About 10 years later, Karl was Secretary of the NSW Labor Party [there are two routes through the machine: via a union or via the party, and he worked the latter while I helped in the former] and engaged in vigorous stoush with both the Premier and the Treasurer. And just today, they've both fallen on their sword. What did you do, Karl?

Last night's news was that the Premier, Morris Iemma, had an exit strategy and would not fight the next election. But the wheels turned much faster, and he's gone. The new Premier is Nathan Rees, and Carmel Tebbutt is his deputy. I met Carmel at university, at the time of my economics masters. I don't remember if she sat in on my seminar, but she had been through the course previously.

Carmel is married to the Federal MP for Marrickville, Anthony Albanese, who is now relatively senior in the ranks. Carmel had been in the NSW ministry (my mother-in-law had some bad reports of her, but then she listens to Alan Jones), but gave it away to focus better on her young kids. But she's been drafted back.

Drafted is the likely scenario for both Carmel and Nathan Rees. Karl had been actively working on it (tell me I'm wrong, mate). Rees' public recognition rate before this elevation was closer to zero than 50% - but he's been in parliament for less than 18 months, which rise can reasonably fit the bill for meteoric. He came up through union ranks, once a garbo (to support himself through university, and later a ministerial "adviser" to several MPs, including most recently... the dumped Premier Iemma. The latter characterised Rees as "bright, intelligent, and street-smart", and in fact personally secured him his parliamentary seat, then quickly gave him the water portfolio. Apparently, Rees at one point cycled regularly from the Blue Mountains to work in the city. Very fit, but a long, hard use of one's time.

The new team is a dead surprise in a factional sense: Carmel and Rees are both from the left; the right usually get to decide the Premier. Karl Bitar was definitely to the right in an ALP sense, but the timing (at least) of the spillage was credited to a couple of less-than-salubrious rightwing MPs, Joe Tripodi (aka Joe Tripod) and Eddie Obeid (the master of self-interest). The flashpoint of the spillage was Iemma's doomed push to spill the whole cabinet in a reshuffle this weekend. Ironically, Rees has indicated he will take a Rudd-like hand in shaping his cabinet - in effect, being freed of the traditional factional formulas that precisely spell out cabinet numbers.

Morris Iemma was quite strongly on the nose for someone who won an election only a year ago. He and Costa were strongly pushing electricity privatisation, and consistently said that it would go ahead, whatever was railed against them. Wrong, maybe - in the short term at least.

Infrastructure privatisation is a dangerous road. Doubly so for electricity generation: it's at the forefront of structural change to battle climate change, because NSW electricity is mostly run on dirty coal (not mine, thank goodness). Electricity generation will be subject to a radically changing regulatory environment. In one sense, selling is a good idea, because dirty generation is doomed. However, they might have been obliged to make very counterproductive promises to potential purchasers, so leading to very suboptimal results in the climate change battle.

Whither to now? Who knows? Comments, Karl?

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