BlindsidedMike Baird and the Liberals have been blindsided by the idea that 'asset recycling' is unconvincing. They should have developed a narrative that explains and defends it (and why asset sales are to be preferred over debt in an era of low interest rates and investment capital seeking solid projects. They should have foreseen that Labor would do well in Victoria and Queensland opposing asset sales per se, and that the same magic would work in NSW (particularly as business is all but ignoring Labor).
Just as the party had cauterised the bleeding from those self-inflicted wounds at ICAC, up pops Joe Hockey suing Fairfax and reminding everyone about the big-money donations flowing into the Liberal Party. Nice one Joe! Even if you do have any money for no-hopers in seats like Oatley, they won't thank you.
There are a number of reasons why they didn't. Their membership base is so small that they don't represent a large cross-section of the community any more. Like any dysfunctional organisation, they equate questioning, challenging individuals with fifth columnists and incompetents and manage them out accordingly. To engage with an idea for the purposes of probing its weaknesses, stealing or concealing its strengths, and overcoming its advocates, is no longer seen as useful work; far easier and quicker to assemble dirt files and background the more gullible remnants of the press gallery, who can't cope with policy anyway.
PowerThe NSW electricity grid is ageing and almost entirely energised by burning coal. There have been several attempts to privatise it over the past two decades, depreciating in value each time. It is likely that households will be powered by solar or other small-scale power-generation systems, backed up by large-scale distribution systems that will depend less and less on burning coal, poles, wires, and all that nineteenth-century crap on the auction block right now. To flog it off now would see private industry bear the risks of transition that can only be borne by the public; and there will be public 'sweeteners' to mitigate that risk, which is what I'm worried about.
The relevant minister, Anthony Roberts, isn't a policy innovator like Gladys Berejiklian or Adrian Piccoli are, and the wide boys from the merchant banks will pull the wool over his eyes and pick his pockets before he has worked out what's happened. He thinks he's being clever by downplaying renewables, but history won't be kind to his dithering.
I'm not being hard on Robbo, I'm just holding him to standards he could never meet. Sometimes when you set the bar really high, people like him do the limbo under it and laugh at you: that's politics, baby.
The NSW electricity grid is a depreciating asset. There is a significant element in Labor (probably the majority of its remaining members) who regard it as 'sacred' or 'iconic' - but if they really believed that they would never have let it deteriorate to this extent. They let it deteriorate because they know it's a depreciating asset, and that the jobs are all in renewables - and that those workers won't be easily herded into union membership like employees of the old Electricity Commission were.
I agree with Peter Wicks when he says:
If Mike Baird wins the election on the 28th and the electricity sell off occurs, I predict that within a few years the boardroom of whatever corporation ends up running our power network will not only be made up of greedy profiteering businessmen, it will also be loaded with former Liberal Ministers.Yep - and if Labor are in government then, one or two old hands who can pull the young pups into line.
If ever there was a time to hedge your bets until the future becomes clearer, now is that time. Such a choice flies in the face of that great political imperative, Being Seen To Be Doing Something. All the soft options in this area have been whittled away, leaving only cynical and empty group exercises that political-class smarties regard as the only role for mass participation in modern politics.
I just don't believe NSW LaborLuke Foley was up to his eyeballs in the rise and fall of the last three Labor Premiers, just as John Robertson was. Labor's framing of him as a cleanskin is bullshit. Labor's insistence that he is to be taken at his word, just like Tony Abbott was before the last federal election, is bullshit. I don't trust Foley to avoid some sort of Damascene conversion to tollroads or coal-seam gas or selling poles-and-wires or banning all abortions.
NSW Labor has reformed itself considerably in the last four years, except when it comes to policy. I don't believe that Labor has learned the lessons ICAC and the voters tried to teach it, in the same way that the federal Coalition under Abbott avoided learning the lessons that Howard's failure was trying to teach them. It's all stunt work: handing back Goat Island to Aboriginal communities with bigger priorities, demountable classrooms, penny-ante stuff worthy of Bob Carr at his most diffident.
Art and cultureYes, art and culture. I wish there were more evidence of local community art projects, embassies and training-grounds from the cultural powerhouses of the inner city: not just repositories of local kids' paintings from three years ago, nor seniors' crochet work, nor half-baked productions of Oh What A Lovely War!. Neither of the majors deserve the benefit of the doubt on this.
The Powerhouse Museum should be relocated to what is now an abandoned school site by O'Connell Street, Parramatta, on the northern side of the river. It should be much, much better than it is - better than this, dream big! - hopefully without being some glistering mockery of deindustrialised western Sydney.
TransportThis is what all election analysis should be like: the focus on state and community and what it needs, not fluffing aimed at keeping up press gallery relationships. Penny Sharpe has received more publicity than almost anyone on Labor's frontbench, as you might expect from someone who learned their politics at the National Union of Students, but once again NUS has thrown up another hack who succeeds at nothing but attracting publicity for its own sake. Sharpe was up against one of Baird's better ministers - you can see why, on election night 2011, Barry O'Farrell wanted to talk only to Gladys - but that's no excuse. Sharpe concentrated on nitpicking current transport policy and couldn't even do that convincingly. If the Greens get up in Newtown they may have done Foley a favour.
The Newcastle rail line, the Pacific and Princes Highways, Westconnex - there are other issues, of course, but Labor are pretty much absent from them all. The Coalition is doing or has done all it intends to do. Few independents are out there galvanising those issues, which is a pity.
EducationWhile Federal Labor deserve praise for their commitment to Gonski's school resourcing proposals, state Labor don't deserve to insinuate themselves into voter assumptions that they would support those proposals. Adrian Piccoli is the country's best education minister and he wears the crown of thorns bestowed by Pyne and Abbott for showing up those arseclowns in Canberra. He seems to have learnt from a debacle like this, the sort of thing that pole-axes governments elsewhere and which gives some indication of what a future in participatory politics looks like.
Disclosure: While TAFE is a huge issue in this election, and I have lots of opinions and feels about vocational education, there won't be any comment on it in this blog. I've worked for TAFE NSW, and sometimes knowledge and insight comes with a determination not to make a tough job harder for those who remain. Plenty of other avenues for you to read up and comment about that.
HealthWhen Jillian Skinner beat off the independent forces of Ted Mack and restored the Liberals to the lower north shore, she focused on health policy and was (eventually) rewarded with the ministry. When Labor was wiped out in 2011 its only remaining member who knew anything about health, Andrew McDonald, became shadow minister. There have been a few changes and a few blow-ups but no real shift in emphasis. There have been no big epochal debates despite being a huge, politically sensitive, fast-moving and interesting area; again, political-class smarties regard this as a sign of success, but fuck those people. McDonald is quitting at the next election and apart from some Victoria-style union stunts by and for nurses and ambos, there is no real alternative policy.
Aged care and disability servicesBaird was stupid and wrong to outsource these services to the private sector, and I note that Labor won't restore the status quo ante; maybe that's why Linda Burney was a non-starter to replace Robertson. But no, since you asked, I don't have a better idea in my back pocket either.
Policing, Justice, Law and Order, Gaming, Alcohol licensing, Drugs, Indigenous people in detention, ...(covers face with hands, groans as though gut-punched)
Prognostication timeRead on at your own risk. Regular readers of this blog know that I am rubbish at forecasts, going on feels rather than polls and underestimating the extent to which people are taken in by press gallery coverage.
The upper houseThe lower house might propose but the upper house disposes, and frankly one of the glaring weaknesses of political coverage (state or federal) is its lack of understanding and reporting of what goes on in the upper house.
First, read this. Antony Green is the master psephologist but he hates minor parties, they always blindside his software on ABC election night coverage. He is right to say that NSW has limited the impact of minor parties to a greater extent than in federal elections, but this election will see a stronger showing from parties other than the majors. This isn't only because there are so many candidates and minor parties.
If the Coalition was going into this election with the same sort of momentum that they had in 2011, they might win 11 of the 21 seats on offer in the Legislative Council and hence control the upper house - but they aren't. They will need to control both houses of state parliament to sell off the electricity grid - but they won't. So much for that.
The Shooters and Fishers have overplayed their hand with free-fire zones in National Parks and with their support of this government's less popular measures. They may yet attract conservative voters who think Baird's too moderate but Nile's too preachy and anti-Muslim, but S+F aren't doing much to hold those voters.
Nile hasn't gone forward or backward, he will remain in place like a little pebble.
While the anti-CSG forces won't win any seats in the lower house, they will coalesce in the upper house - and it is almost impossible to to believe that someone opposing coal-seam gas won't also oppose selling the electricity grid. This person may or may not be Green, but they won't be the inner-city denizen thrown up by that party on the mainland. They may be someone who's clearly rural and working-class and defiantly anti-political-class, like Ricky Muir.
Prediction: the majors 8 each, Nile, at least one Green - and, uh, another three not to the major parties.
The lower houseThere are 93 seats of the Legislative Assembly (the lower house), so you need 47 to get a majority in that house to form government. See, I'm not totally innumerate.
Again, read Mr Green. Go to the list of Coalition seats on the left-hand side and scroll from the top down to The Entrance: that's 20 seats. Give them all to Labor, except Coogee and Kiama. Give Labor Port Stephens too.
Too hard to call from this angle:
- Blue Mountains
It looks like independents have missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to punt the Nats from Upper Hunter. Thy are, however, starting to rattle the Nats along the north coast, learning lessons that will do for Hartsuyker and Gillespie at the next federal election.
That gives the Coalition 45-50 seats out of 93, a kick in the teeth but most likely still in government. Abbott is gone no matter what.