The shock of the old
11 December 2009
Truly, if God does exist, she moves in mysterious ways. Who would have thought that Tony Abbott, the Mad Monk, Captain Catholic, the Budgie Smuggler, the man who dreams of an Australian theocracy would – all unexpectedly – end up as leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition?
That muffled far-away cheering you can hear is Vince Gair and a thousand old Democratic Labor Party reactionaries shrieking with delight from the grave. Years after the old DLP shuffled off this mortal coil, here was its spirit again abroad in the land.
And then, a couple of days later, the DLP coup swept through the NSW Labor Party when the ersatz-left Nathan Rees was overthrown and the Obeid-Tripodi mafia installed Kristina Kerscher Keneally – Miss Vatican 08 herself – in the top job. The kid could hardly believe her luck. Once she was a (women’s) liberation theologian, but then she looked into the eyes of Pope Ratzinger – the most reactionary pontiff in decades – and decided it was all girlhood folly. And now she’s running the state, old Bob Santamaria reborn as a bland, blond, smart-arse American-accented valley girl.
Ah yes, Tony and Kristina are desperate choices for desperate times – monuments to the idea that, when faced with nasty and previously unimagined problems, one should fall back on old and failed solutions.
In Tony’s case, biblical obscurantism marches hand in hand with market fundamentalism. Take peak oil. At last year’s Sydney Writers Festival, Abbott was asked what he understood about it. Claiming, unconvincingly, that it was the first time he’d heard the term, he tried to deflect the question to fellow panelist Robert Manne who gave a basic but inadequate answer. Pressed again on the issue, Abbott fell back on the neo-classical economic argument that, when the price was high enough, all sorts of other sources of oil (like biofuels) would suddenly appear. What hilarious rot. Even if the new sources could, magically, equal the sheer volume of oil (and gas) the world now uses, the vastly higher price would cripple the economy. Anyway, you can see it on YouTube. It’s a bit of video that’ll come back to haunt the demented ideologue.
Kristina Keneally, by contrast, strikes this possum more as power-hungry airhead, entirely free of technical insight, of a type that’s becoming the norm in NSW politics.
Let’s face it, Keneally wouldn’t now be premier if Rees hadn’t had his terrible rush of blood to the head and gone for exactly the wrong Big Public Transport Initiative.
If on the fateful day shortly after his accession the self-styled ‘guerilla group’ pitched him their spontaneous back-of-the-envelope concept for a CBD Metro, the new premier had thanked them politely, told them he’d sleep on it, and gone away and got some serious alternative advice on a subject about which he knew nothing, he’d still be premier.
If he’d have asked around, he would have discovered that not only would the Metro be extraordinarily expensive (even allowing for the breathtaking inflation of rail costs in NSW) but also that, for the same sum, he could build the long-awaited North-West and South-West rail links and the Parramatta-Epping link cancelled by Mick Costa and a raft of other rail improvements to boot.
But the goofy child-premier had to prove he was Action Jackson – strong, decisive and in-control. Despite being nominally of the left, he had to stick with the now-fashionable privately built and operated ‘solution’. He went for a $5.3 billion project that was totally useless unless he somehow managed to find another $8 billion. In the end he was frogmarched out of office muttering about a grand 30 year, $350 billion, ‘Transport Blueprint’ that incorporated virtually every road, rail and ferry project ever proposed for Sydney.
The tragedy was that, had Rees gone for the package of public transport projects he should have backed, he would certainly have got federal funding for at least one of them. Compared to the crazy leap-in-the-dark metro, the high-value western Sydney rail projects were shovel-ready and the Rudd Government’s Infrastructure Australia scheme would probably have half-funded at least one of them. As it was, Rees tried, pathetically, to con the feds into funding metro when he had nothing more than a Powerpoint presentation full of typos.
If anything good comes out of the Keneally Koup, the demise of the CBD Metro might just be it. Certainly, Keneally never personally associated herself with Rees’ metro mania. Trouble is, she might just replace Rees’ obsession with the wrong public transport initiative with a return to Carr’s obsession with motorways. Certainly, the technological reactionaries of the RTA are preparing the groundwork. Within days of Keneally’s accession, they launched a ‘public consultation’ for a doubling of the M5 motorway.