David Hill: from Giardia to Labor MP?

Wednesday, September 16, 1998 - 10:00

By Geoff Francis and Peter Hicks

David Hill has finally resigned as head of Sydney Water. The man who gave the harbour city undrinkable drinking water denied any responsibility for the disaster, claiming he was leaving only to concentrate on his political career.

The Sydney Morning Herald has already revealed how Hill made threats against those who tried to act to prevent the crisis, and in doing so may have put at risk the health and safety of some 3 million people.

But how did the situation come about? An examination of Hill's goals and priorities at Sydney Water is revealing. The following is from Sydney Water's web site:

"The Corporate Direction is our key to business success ... it opens the door to a productive future for Sydney Water and its customers. Our action will be working to meet our key targets ...

"To provide a commercial rate of return that meets our shareholders' expectations. To add value to the business. To lead in a competitive market. Commercial rate of return achieved on all new investments. Diversification of revenue stream by 5% of total income by the year 2001. Economic value added to the business trend to improve by 10% by the year 2002. Underlying operating costs per property reduced by 45% from 1992-1993 to 2000-2001."

The ABC

Hill's record at Sydney Water is not an exception.

Few in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation at the time of Hill's appointment as managing director of the ABC had any doubts that it owed more to his being a Labor mate of Paul Keating's than to any expertise in the area of broadcasting.

He brought to the job many of the Napoleonic aspects that characterised the Keating years, in particular a dictatorial style and an obsession with self-aggrandising schemes. During the mid-'90s, while the heart was being ripped out of basic ABC services, Hill was happy to pour millions into his and Keating's pet projects, like the development of a pay TV news channel and Australian Television International.

Hill's years at the ABC were characterised by a series of management purges. ABC journalists were expected to bow and grovel in front of repressive and undemocratic overseas regimes in order to gain their support for Hill's international project.

In the end, none of the providers of pay television would take Hill's news channel at any price and millions of dollars later, the scheme was abandoned. His international channel project turned into a financial black hole, forcing him to go cap in hand in search of commercial sponsorship, thereby compromising the independence and integrity of the ABC. Having stuffed up the ABC, Hill moved on.

State Rail

Hill's first period as head of the NSW railways between 1982-87 resulted in traditional public service obligations being swept away in pursuit of the economic rationalist goal of making State Rail a profit-maximising business.

There were mass sackings and redundancies, with a consequent running down of services. Hardest hit by Hill's policies were workers in the regions and the bush, where whole depots and maintenance yards were closed.

As services were decimated, fares were continually raised in pursuit of profitability. Low-paid workers such as cleaners were laid off in their thousands as elements of the railway were "outsourced".

Hill left State Rail a shadow of its former self, but unbelievably, Labor premier Bob Carr called his mate back in again (this time on a part-time basis for an annual salary equivalent to $133,000) in April 1997. Charged with the mission of making the trains run on time, Hill's inspired solution was to cut even more services!

Australian Soccer

Whole volumes could be devoted to the chain of disasters that have occurred since the association between Hill and Soccer Australia. Limitation of space dictate, alas, that we must restrict ourselves to the most disgraceful example.

As chair of Soccer Australia, Hill declared war on multiculturalism within the sport. A relatively unspectacular crowd disturbance at a semi-final in 1997 was hyped by Hill into a "racial incident" precipitated by traditional racial hatred between the Croats and the Greeks.

Despite there being no nationalistic, political or sociological issues between the Greek and Croatian populations that the South Melbourne and Sydney United teams represent, Hill threatened to expel the two clubs.

At Hill's insistence, Soccer Australia added the incident to its arsenal of arguments for eliminating all traces of ethnicity and immigrant passion from Australian soccer.

Soccer in Australia is rooted in the immigrant communities that created their own clubs and expressed their heritage, but under Hill's guidance, Soccer Australia has grown to fear that history.

Last summer, Soccer Australia ordered clubs playing in the top league to drop any team colours, badges or slogans that might betray an identifiable connection to any foreign culture. Melbourne Croatia became Melbourne Knights. Marconi now trots out in blue uniforms instead of the red, green and white of the Italian flag. South Melbourne Hellas dropped the Hellas.

They became just three more anonymous entries in Soccer Australia's Disneyesque league of indistinguishable teams wheeled out to perform for the TV cameras and the crowds of shiny, happy people that Hill presumes are soccer's target audience.

The ALP

Now comes the really scary stuff: Hill will be the Labor candidate for the federal NSW seat of Hughes. He entered the contest with the full weight of the ALP state machine behind him.

At his media conference immediately after his preselection, Hill said: "While trying to be modest about this, I would go into federal parliament with more experience in the machinery and management of government than perhaps anybody."

With such a long standing anti-worker, anti-public service, anti-multiculturalism and pro-economic rationalist agenda, can you imagine what this man will do if he gets his hands on our education, health or social security systems?

[For more on David Hill, visit <http://www.trump.net.au/~glazfolk/dhill.htm>.

From GLW issue 333