Something stinks in NSW

June 13, 2008

These days, the city of Wollongong is famous for all the wrong reasons.

In March, its Labor-dominated council was found by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) to be wrought with systemic corruption.

To avoid annihilation at the NSW local government elections scheduled for September, ALP Premier Morris Iemma sacked the council and installed administrators to run affairs. The people of Wollongong now have to accept several years of an unelected "council", run by three people appointed by the same ALP machine that generated the stinking mess in the first place!

Three months after the ICAC findings, the ALP is still "deciding" whether or not to expel the four councillors implicated in the reports. No doubt, Labor is worried the councillors will go public to save themselves being hung out to dry.

But the corruption didn't originate solely from council; Wollongong MP Noreen Hay was also named in the investigation. Hay was found to have lobbied councillors on behalf of developers, and her 2007 election campaign space was provided rent free by developer Frank Vellar. ICAC found that Vellar had engaged in "serious corrupt conduct" with council planners.

Iemma's "solution" was to stand Hay down from her position as parliamentary secretary for health, and reinstate her days later! Corruption, clearly, goes all the way up.

Corruption also goes sideways. Now, just south of Wollongong, another local council — Shellharbour — faces the sack due to the role of the ALP majority.

Then came "Iguanagate", where ALP "power" duo, state education minister John Della Bosca and local federal MP Belinda Neal, have been accused of arrogantly threatening the licensee and workers at Iguana Joe's Bistro, a nightclub in Gosford.

After the smoke had cleared on June 6, six staff members had issued statuary declarations that Neal had threatened to use her political influence to remove the club's "fucking licence" and that she would use the "fucking police" to shut the place down.

Della Bosca, it appears, also intervened aggressively, allegedly poking one staff member in the chest. It took four "persuasive" phone calls from Della Bosca for the club to issue an apology — which it turns out he wrote himself — and retract the statuary declarations.

However, two staff members are sticking to their eyewitness accounts. A police investigation has been launched because four Della Bosca supporters, and ALP members, issued counter statuary declarations contradicting those of the workers.

These events may not have seen the light of day if Della Bosca hadn't already been renowned for his arrogant behaviour. (He recently told the NSW teachers who are in dispute with the education department over the system of teachers' transfers to "suck it and see" what the likely impact of the new system would be.)

Iemma had come to Della Bosca's defence, arguing that his explanation of what happened at Iguana Joe's did not warrant any more action to be taken. But on June 12, after mounting pressure, Iemma asked Della Bosca to stand aside, the latter protesting that there was nothing wrong with him writing a draft apology for the Iguana's owners.

It's an open secret that Iemma needs Della Bosca to help him work out a compromise between the unions and government to ease the passage of the controversial electricity privatisation bill through the parliament.

Unfortunately, attending "anger management" classes, as PM Kevin Rudd has ordered Neal to do, won't solve the underlying problem. The behaviour of these MPs reflect a corrupt and arrogant party machine that has long since been uninterested in the rights, or feelings, of ordinary working people.

The ALP manages the affairs of government and state in the interests of a wealthy minority. To act in the interest of this corporate elite means it has to act against those of the vast majority of working people.

To try to maintain the fiction that it is a "workers' party", they carry on organising branches and ALP conferences. The ALP politicians then have to manipulate and undermine democratic processes or, as in the case of the NSW energy privatisation issue, ignore votes altogether.

As individual ALP MPs begin to identify more with the interests of the corporate elite rather than political ideas, let alone ideals, and the interests of working people, the bureaucratic and arrogant culture reproduces itself. One need look no further than former Premier Bob Carr's post-politics job with Macquarie Bank.

Now, it seems Labor has lost touch with how much its own ranks can stomach. The Iguanagate scandal is not that surprising. Most of all, this latest disaster highlights the urgent need for a radical political alternative to the rotten ALP, a real working class party that puts the interests of working people, the community and the environment at its front and centre.

[Chris Williams is a member of the Illawarra branch of the Socialist Alliance, based in Wollongong.]

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