Twin evils


Editorial: Twin evils

The NSW Labor right owes Liberal Premier Nick Greiner a vote of thanks. After tens of thousands of traditional Labor voters decided in 1988 that nothing could be worse than Barrie Unsworth and the Labor machine, Greiner has convinced them otherwise with three years of even harsher economic and social policies and promises of worse to come.

Staring a nationwide electoral debacle in the face, the Labor machine men have been given a reprieve. During the seemingly inevitable electoral holocaust, as Labor governments in Canberra, Perth, Melbourne and probably Adelaide face almost certain defeat due to publicly exposed economic incompetence and corruption, the right will point to NSW and perhaps Queensland as the rays of hope.

But these are rays of hope for the machine only. For the millions of working people who pin their hopes on Labor, the NSW elections offer nothing but the prospect of indefinite hardship. In 1988, workers revolted against the job slashing, service cutting, and yet massively wasteful policies of Unsworth, and Wran before him. But Greiner was worse, inflicting even more cuts on education, health, housing and public transport services, and trying to match Labor in the extravagance of its subsidies to big business, though nothing could really touch Darling Harbour and the Sydney monorail and the harbour tunnel in that respect. Nevertheless, the Eastern Creek racetrack is a fair attempt.

More than that, the NSW machine shouldn't be allowed to quietly disown its huge share of responsibility for Labor's state nationally. The NSW right was the main architect of the Labor governmental projects of the '80s. The mates in WA modelled themselves on and took advice from the experts from NSW, who had shown how Labor could make itself useful to big business in the post-Whitlam era. The Hawke government, with its right-wing policies, was shaped mainly by the NSW machine. The whole national machine was fuelled by the WA Inc slush fund for which former mate Brian Burke is now taking the rap.

Perhaps the NSW gang can't be blamed for the Victorian fiasco, as the Cain government went its own way to a certain extent, but the federal recession is definitely a Sussex Street job. Nor should it be forgotten what the NSW mates have done to the Labor Party and the trade union movement nationally. Their right-wing policies drove out huge numbers of ALP members, and they alienated tens of thousands more traditional supporters. They crushed the life out of the trade union movement, leaving it a corporatist shell dependent on deals with government and with limited capacity for independent mobilisation. In time, this damage is reversible, though it will take a lot of hard work and struggle retaking ground won by previous generations only to be surrendered by the machine politicians.

While the NSW election result might set back the Greiner offensive and help to curb its worst excesses, it didn't offer any solutions to the problems facing the great majority of Australians. Offered a choice of two evils, NSW was very nearly unable to make up its mind.