Labor only went bad after Bob Carr resigned
A desperate myth for desperate times
29 March 2011
Before the polling booths closed last Saturday, even before they opened, long before the whole ghastly, long-expected political bloodbath unfolded, in fact, since the campaign began, the spinmeisters of the ALP have arriving as if by telepathy at a redemptive myth: the NSW Labor Government only went bad after Bob Carr resigned in 2005.
When I turned on the ABC election coverage on Saturday night, ,Gladys “The Magic Armenian” Berejiklian, was dutifully trying to establish another myth – that the Liberal victory had fundamentally come because of Barry O’Farrell’s genius – but I could see her heart wasn’t in it.
At the end of the table Labor apparatchik Mark Foley was abasing himself. It was a total, massive, unprecedented disaster for which they had only themselves to blame. But as he groped for words there was this sense that under Carr Labor held together as a team, focussed, magnificent … after Carr, they spent more time fighting each other … lost touch with the punters, blah, blah. Without utter humility and deep soul-searching in the months and years ahead the party couldn’t reform, blah, blah.
When Kristina Keneally came on to concede defeat she took a bet each way. The masses hadn’t deserted Labor, she said, Labor had deserted the masses. But then, remarkably, she went on to talk about all the wonderful things they’d done in their time in power.
You can’t have it both ways unless you identify a moment after which you started to slide down the greasy pole, and the gathering implication was that the moment was Carr’s resignation.
So let’s talk about the real Bob Carr: the man was, second to John Howard, the most successful faker in Australian politics. Because Labor’s humiliating defeat wasn’t about disunity, corruption and personal greed (although there was that in abundance), it was about lousy governance. It was about building the wrong infrastructure and running a right-wing social agenda dictated by a handful of shock-jocks; it was about failure to lead; about failure to anticipate global crises like peak oil. And it all started with Bob and the style of conservative spin-cycle managerialism of which he was the finest exponent.
It was Bob Carr who bid higher than anybody else in the cruel and counterproductive law-and-order auction that came to characterise NSW elections. It was Bob Carr who commanded the pathetic war on drugs. It was Bob Carr who gutted the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and turned the Land and Environment Court into what should have been called the Land and Development Court. It was Bob who gave us the wonderfully-named Casino Control Authority, which winked at every sort of abuse.
It was under Bob Carr that figures as odious as Mick Costa, Joe Tripodi, Eddie Obeid and Eric Roozendaal came to prominence.
It was Bob who shaped up as though he was going to make light rail a feature of Sydney’s public transport mix, but in his time there were no more extensions to the mode.
Bob talked constantly about not allowing the RTA and tollways to dominate Sydney, but that’s precisely the regime he pursued relentlessly. Of all the public transport infrastructure projects promised in Transport 2010 virtually none eventuated but all the gridlock-inducing motorway projects were completed and then some: the Eastern Distributor, the M7, the Cross-City and Lane Cove tunnels. It was under Bob Carr that the RTA perfected the technique of flagrantly concocting outrageously high traffic predictions to justify the tollways it wanted. Bob was the premier who could write eloquent opinion pieces about climate change while building motorways.
It was under Carr that the public-private infrastructure partnerships that have looted the public purse reached, hopefully, their maximum extent.
But that was Bob all over. His technique was to say all the right things in an authoritative way and do the opposite.
For years, virtually every mainstrean journalist was a sucker for Bob. Bob, they told us, was a genuine intellectual, at home with Bill Clinton, Gore Vidal, Paul Erlich, Norman Mailer and even the profoundly ugly and right wing James Ellroy. A whole generation of journalists loved Bob for the deft cynicism of his touch. Journalists like master Labor hagiographer Craig McGregor, who, back in 1999, in very, very, gentle interview of the type referred to in the industry as a blow-job, even let Bob tell us … that he was the only thing standing between NSW and civil war:
Do you feel you could have made more radical decisions in your time as Premier? – When it comes to change we’ve pushed the social reform agenda as much as any state government. I’m satisfied with what we’ve done.
Too many compromises? –You have to have a measure of compromise for things to work. The alternative to compromise is either rule by a dictator, or civil war.
So what really happened here? What did the last 16 years really signify? Labor came to power in 1995 when a flood tide of capitalist triumphalism and the ALP’s leaders – never a bastion of left-wing principle – found themselves happily buoyed up the social scale with the tide. The rot started with Bob.