Business as usual in NSW
The election of Labor right-winger Bob Carr to the NSW premiership has hardly created a ripple. The unanimous view, it seems, is that the Carr government's policies won't deviate significantly from those of its Coalition predecessors. This is the message Carr has chosen to reinforce.
Even before being sworn in, Carr was keen to dispel any fears that his would be a government of progressive reform. To underscore the point, he went on record singing the praises of Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett. Carr has tempted Ken Baxter, a former Greiner government hatchet man, then Victoria's most senior public servant (at more than $270,000 a year), back to NSW to carry out some of the same public service "reforms".
Business in NSW can hardly hide its satisfaction with the election result: in Carr's words, "a fiscally conservative, fiscally cautious" administration which, unencumbered by a hung parliament, promises the swift elimination of the budget deficit (currently approximately $1 billion) and a 2% reduction in payroll tax. Businesses can also rest assured with finance minister Michael Egan's comment that he has no "ideological opposition" to privatisation and that a soon to be held "jobs summit" will be aimed at providing incentives for them to stay in NSW instead of drifting to Queensland (where payroll tax is already at 5%).
More schools, hospitals, better public transport and other necessary public services are, apparently, beyond reach. Carr, the so-called reformer, has promised only 500 more doctors, 800 nurses and 1400 teachers — a fraction of what's needed to repair the state's devastated public sector after seven years of Coalition rule.
Carr also swears that he will do something that no other government (Labor or Liberal) has managed — to protect old-growth forests, timber industry jobs and corporate profits. Protecting the environment and jobs isn't compatible with policies designed to keep business profitable.
Carr, it shouldn't be forgotten, hasn't a good record on the environment: as planning minister in the Unsworth government, he authorised the Australian Gas Light Company to develop an LPG plant despite widely held concerns about the transport of highly explosive LPG and butane across the Kurnell peninsula. More recently, he has announced the centralisation of planning powers, removing important quality of life decisions from broader public comment and scrutiny.
In the March 25 election, the environment peak bodies mobilised their ranks to help the ALP over the line in a number of marginal seats. Now they expect to be repaid. But given the similarity of the two major parties' economic policies, this government will not be significantly less harsh on the environment and our living standards than Greiner and Fahey were.
Carr has promised to continue where Greiner left off. This means that, in order to defend public services and the forests, now is the time to go on the offensive. The Lib-Lab system will survive as long as there isn't a green left alternative made up of independent movements defending ordinary people and the environment against the inevitable attacks. Without this, we will forever be caught in the lesser-evil bind which the ALP has become very adept at manipulating.