07 January 2009

Plans for Sydney

The plans for a metro under Parramatta Road and a more densely-populated inner-west spell doom for Labor - not merely electoral defeat in 2011, but a removal of the structural bias that has seen Labor govern NSW for 60 of the last 80 years.

The inner-city Greens have the ability to take seats like Balmain and Marrickville, and force safe Labor seats like Drummoyne, Strathfield and even Auburn and Parramatta into the arms of the Liberals. Hopefully they would also take out the awful Kristina Keneally. People who live in the inner-west fancy themselves as village-dwellers, and successive Labor governments have stopped short of disturbing this idyll with infrastructure that the rest of the city desperately needs. If you ever wondered why the M2 jerks to a halt at Strathfield, why the M5 dumps traffic in Alexandria or why Victoria Road and the Anzac Bridge approaches have to mince around Glebe and Pyrmont, blame a Labor ward-heeler from the inner city.

The challenge is now on the Greens to turn their back on voter-repellent hippies and select credible candidates for these winnable seats. They have no excuse for not winning three or four seats in the Legislative Council, either.

The proposals by Infrastructure Australia may have merit if you take the politics out of it. Leichhardt needs more mass-transit than Petersham station and the 470 bus can provide. However, the dark satanic flats rising above Marion Street projected on the cover of Tuesday's SMH was provocative to say the least. This is the sort of slow-burn political issue that will make No Aircraft Noise and Callan Park look like trifles. State and Federal Labor won't present a united front behind these proposals - the politics are just too hard, so watch for these plans to be quietly strangled in Canberra.

This issue has popped up while Nathan Rees is overseas, and by the time he gets back it will all be too late. The whole idea of Rees was to minimise Labor's losses at the next election: with the Greens forming a second front to the fight against the Liberals, Labor has no chance. It will not have the easy ride back into office that Bob Carr had, facing only a Liberal government taking tough decisions and no real Greens threat. The next Labor government in NSW will have to completely rethink its approach to electioneering, McKell/Wran-style.

The Federal Minister for Infrastructure is Anthony Albanese, who represents Marrickville and Petersham in the House of Reps. He leads NSW Labor's fight against the Greens. A politician of his calibre should never have let these plans see the light of day without a careful media management strategy - a very careful strategy, given that there is no constituency more resistant to spin than inner-city lefties. A Labor rout in inner Sydney would be a direct threat, not only to his wife in Marrickville but also to himself. Tanya Plibersek in Sydney is also vulnerable. The Feds go to election before State Labor does, and woe betide Labor if a 'protest vote' gets out of control in the inner cities.

As per my debate with Unrepentant Whitlamite last month, the dissonance between central planning and community activism within Labor has been resolved in favour of the former, with dire results for Labor as a mass membership and community representative organisation. The pincer is closing on Rees Labor, whom nobody will miss. Yet, if you start writing off Labor governments like that there won't be any. Given the rudderless state of their opponents this should give pause to anyone who'd hope to be governed well.


  1. Feh, NSW labor is the party of the inner suburbs, NSW liberals that of the northern suburbs. That won't change. The far western and south-western suburbs, where the great bulk of Sydneyites live and where the needs are far the biggest, are taken for granted by both parties.

    Howard discovered that many of these suburbs, especially the more northwestern ones, are by no means glued to Labor. Rees is about to learn that lesson. But I wouldn't rule out O'Farrell having to learn the lesson too in later years - the NSW Libs aren't exactly in tune with the western suburbs either.

  2. Blithe assurances don't cut it, dd. You have to work hard to alienate your base to the extent that NSW Labor has, and there's no denying they've done the work. My point is that Labor's redoubt during its time of opposition is being sold out to the Greens, putting Labor in a position of not merely cyclical defeat but devastation, requiring a new political paradigm.

    The moral equivalence thing with the Libs is vacuous and intellectually lazy so I'll ignore it.