Friday, May 8, 2009

Michael Costa, Bob Carr, Nathan Rees, electricity privatization, the state of NSW and send in the clowns

(Above: Zachary Quinto as the new Spock, surprisingly troubled by emotions and his human side, and lacking in rational decision making in the new Star Trek movie.  Does a job in NSW state Labor call to him?)

Why is it that whenever I read a Michael Costa column, I'm drawn ineluctably back to the nightmare of the government of New South Wales?

Sure in the wider world, the problems of Sydney and NSW are just a mole hill against assorted mountains. It's hard to cavil when death, starvation, disease and assorted bombings by assorted loons is the lot of many in the world.

So last night was no more than a flea bite. It began with the latest effort in the Star Trek franchise, a hokey pile of time travel nonsense, which by definition could offer no real thrills (Spock lives, James Tiberius Kirk lives and becomes a plump sexist lawyer in Boston Legal), so instead it offered lots of explosions, rampant incoherence, the usual pseudo-scientific gibberish, and a truly dire villain in the shape of Eric Bana as Captain Nero.

The trekkies had fun - you can offer them any kind of second hand slop and they'll lap it up - and the young actors worked hard and tried to look like their venerable ancestors, but I kept thinking of Galaxy Quest, whenever I saw whirling blades of death, or an ersatz rock monster in the snow, or people repeating what the computer said. So I guess we all had a good night, but some not in the intended spirit of the show, which seemed to take itself way too seriously, in the trekkie manner.

Then we went on a magical mystery tour, perhaps not as much fun as for those who tried to catch a ferry between nine and four that day, when there was no tour at all. This time we'd reached the train platform, and passed on a couple of trains supposedly not going our way, until an announcement told us they indeed were what we needed, because trains had been canned and buses were the go. 

So we got to Central, where they were hastily dragging out the signs telling of the hasty, mysterious need for track work, then learned that a railway bus ride late at night involves convoluted loops in Redfern, the bypassing of a station in an 'all stations bus' and finally arrival in a new mind space continuum where you just wanted to land the ship, and get off into the night. Anywhere, even if it was an ice planet with a human munching dinosaur.

It was just another day on the rail system, and then I read Costa's Blame Labor's hierarchy, not Rees, and I see that Costa is peddling the Bob Carr line that all would have been well if they'd only been able to privatise electricity way back when.

It was always so. Excuses and more excuses, and a walk down memory lane like a magical mystery tour of Redfern.

As for Rees? More of the same. For example, while resolutely ignoring light rail, Rees - with an urgent need to be seen to be doing something - announced a CBD Metro which will run as much as 87% empty during the height of the morning rush hour when it (allegedly) opens in 2015. And most CBD Metro trains will run almost empty for decades. (See Linton Besser's CBD Metro will run almost empty). 

No wonder the federal government is currently only offering a hundred million to help out on this multi billion dollar folly, which true to form was announced before any feasibility studies had been done. Meanwhile if you live out in the real west, forget public transport as an option.

There are clowns in charge of NSW, but as a former head clown, I guess it's hard for Costa to acknowledge that the most you expect from a state government is good management and trains that run on time. The vision thing would be nice, but in the case of a Labor government a dream as credible as a Vulcan lifestyle.

You have to go back to the nineteen thirties to see the vision thing truly at work - for without the harbor bridge and the city railway tunnel loop, Sydney would even now be truly stuffed (the under harbor tunnel is probably the next best, but that was in the days of Liberal Nick Greiner, so say no more). Let's check out Costa's vision thing:

Although it is fashionable to worship at the altar of Keynes-inspired debt-funded economics, Carr and his treasurer Michael Egan faced a different orthodoxy. The state was facing credit watch, and commentators and the business community argued for debt reduction.

Oh the poor possums, so they just went along for the ride, declaring the cupboard was bare and doing three fifths of fuck all. 

Well I guess snake oil salesman Bob Carr has now found his natural home at Macquarie Bank where he can argue for open competition in book publishing and continue to ignore Sydney's need for a second airport, so that Macquarie can continue to fleece the punters by running the worst airport in the country in a cartel that boggles the mind. Okay, I agree about the book publishing, let's bring it on for the airport.

But back to the current game. 

If you read Costa, Rees's off the cuff announcement of a metro system no one needs and no one will use must first of all have been caused by (a) unions dominating the NSW ALP administrative committee and (b) the unions  preventing Bob Carr from privatizing electricity back in 1997, so he could soak up $25 billion to spend on bread and circuses like the Olympics (or roads or trains or whatever).

So besotted is Costa by his factional enemies, he seems to think that NSW Labor's problems can be solved by national intervention:

A simple immediate solution would be for the national executive to do what it should have done during the most recent energy reform debacle and clarify the roles of party structures. The national executive should intervene in NSW to ensure that the unworkable claims from the state administrative committee that it has the right to dictate policy to a popularly elected government and its caucus are corrected.

The administrative committee should have responsibility only for the administrative affairs of the NSW branch. The administrative affairs of the party should be defined narrowly as the day-to-day running of the party and its machine. The union-dominated annual conference should be nothing more than a consultative policy forum focused on information and education. In recent years it has become a platform for grandstanding by opportunistic union officials representing primarily the public sector, in front of an audience so narrowly drawn and out of touch with notions of good government that any dullard talking drivel can shine for 15 minutes.

The only way this type of reform can occur in the short term is if Rudd throws his prestige and authority behind the change. No doubt some of his inexperienced advisers who have been nurtured and have thrived within the recent culture of the dysfunctional NSW branch will be advising him against these changes. If he takes this advice and is punished at the next federal election in NSW, he should blame himself, not Rees.

Yep, it's all the fault of the unions and the faceless men, and nothing to do with the actual clowns in charge. They're just there for the ministerial cars, so they don't have to be troubled by the state transport system.

There's a simpler solution, and it involves the venerable joy of the ballot box. 

Contrary to Costa's advice, Rudd should stand clear, because Rees and his clowns are going down, no matter what anyone does to save them. Costa's attempt to transfer the blame to Rudd is just such a colossal cheek, and so indicative of NSW Labor's modus operandi - blaming anyone but themselves for the mess they're in - that you almost have to admire Costa's enormous gall. 

Like a rapidly failing Star Trek franchise, they always manage to go where nobody else could be bothered to go as they search out new sources to explain their own incompetence.

There comes a point when the only solution is to vote the bastards out. Sure the new mob show no signs of being any better, and might, because of their own ideological bent, be actively worse, but there comes a time when a cleansing is the only answer. 

Star Trek long ago reached its use by date for all but trekkies, and so it is with state Labor. Beam them out Scotty and save us from another self-excusing, preposterous column from Michael Costa, all about coulda, shoulda, woulda, but didn't.

(Below: the old and wise time traveling Spock, looking a lot like state Labor in the final stages of a black hole space time dysfunctionality continuum, perhaps caused by a failure in the crystalline dilithium warp drive reactors).

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