A nil-all draw where everyone loses: The NSW election

Submitted by Rick Eyre on March 19 2011, 10:43 am

It feels like it has been such a long time coming, but we're now one week away from the end of a four-year fixed term marking the general election for the New South Wales parliament. The obvious, the necessary, will happen - the Australian Labor Party will be hurled out of office, and for the most part obliterated. This is good. By virtue of this, the Liberal and National Parties will be elevated to government with many fresh faces and a whacking big majority. This is not necessarily so good.

The Labor government has been in a state of decay for years even before they won, by default, the 2007 election. They had lost interest in their traditional socialist goals and stopped listening to their broader electorate at large. Chronically incapable of long-term vision on major infrastructure projects (especially rail networks and hospitals), burning their fingers repeatedly on bad public-private partnerships (Airportlink, Cross-City Tunnel, numerous motorways), creating white elephants of dubious environmental merit (Kurnell desalination plant), getting seduced into narcissistic "tourist" attractions with destructive environmental impact (V8 racing at the Olympic precinct, the Lend Lease Barangaroo development).

None of that begins to explain the machinations of a government whose lack of transparency would make even Kim Jong feel a bit ill. Planning laws trampling over the functions of local government and heavily skewed in favour of property developers (often advised by former Labor apparatchiks). Economic policy subservient to that now-discredited god, the "triple-A credit agency rating". For a government that should have been learning by its mistakes, the extraordinary farce surrounding the partial privatisation of the electricity industry just before Christmas 2010 was damning evidence of a cabal scrambling to get as much done as they could, as hastily as possible, before the time ran out.

This is a government all too willing to shut down parliament when it suited them, as I noted in this example in June 2009. And I haven't even started to discuss the MPs either demoted or ejected because of a range of scandals including criminal conduct.

The bulk of my bloggage on New South Wales state politics over the past four years can be found here.

The New South Wales Labor government has been doomed to defeat probably since the day that Morris Iemma was knifed in September 2008. The knifing of his successor, Nathan Rees, in December 2009 reinforced the calamity. Incoming premier Kristina Keneally was dumped into a situation she could not possibly win her way out of.

Current opinion polls suggest that the Labor Party will attract a primary vote of about 25% - that's one adult in four giving their first preference to what was one thought "Australia's natural party of government". Labor goes into this election holding 50 out of 93 lower house seats. By my estimate they will come out of it with around 17.

The Labor Party must not be returned to office, and there seems no real risk of that. By default, this will make the Liberal/National coalition the government, with Barry O'Farrell as premier. But I'm not endorsing them, nor (except possibly in two or three electorates) recommending a primary vote for them. O'Farrell is a nice guy who should have been Liberal leader for the 2007 election, but I believe that he will be merely the front man for a nasty right-wing administration that will replace the "triple-A" mantra with an agenda to decimate public expenditure - in particular by axing public service (and public service jobs to go with them). Their policies, such as they are, fail to address many of the concerns about the current Labor government (including planning and government transparency).

Their campaigning is laughably bad in places - their @LiberalNSW twitter feed is an excellent self-incriminating summary of this. And then there is O'Farrell's Abbottesque Contract With NSW.

O'Farrell states in the preamble to his "contract" that he will resign as premier if he fails to live up to his contract. Which gives the Liberal HQ back room enough rope to fulfil a scenario that I believe is well on the cards - that O'Farrell will, at some stage over the next four years, be knifed as Premier, to make way for someone else, probably a new face to be elected next Saturday. (My money's on Gabrielle Upton of Vaucluse.)

I'm not looking forward to the next four years in New South Wales at all.