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Archive for September, 2009

Cabinet reshuffle

This afternoon Premier Nathan Rees unveiled what I would call a pretty significant cabinet reshuffle.

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The resignation of John Della Bosca has changed the political dynamic in NSW on a number of levels. Premier Nathan Rees has been forced to plan a cabinet reshuffle, promoting allies and demoting those who he perceives as being destabalising figures in caucus. Rees’ hold on the leadership of the Labor Party has also been affected by Della’s resignation, though perhaps not as obviously as some are suggesting.

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Most readers are probably by now aware of the story of murdered property developer Michael McGurk. I won’t rehash the events of the last few days because this isn’t a crime or gossip blog. There is a good summary of the story here.

What’s more relevant are the political ramifications of the McGurk saga. The story has exposed links between associates of McGurk and the Labor Party and the issue of political donations has again reared its head.

The more pertinent issue at the moment are the allegations of corruption targeted at unnamed State and Federal Government ministers, bureaucrats and local councillors. Earlier today the NSW police handed over evidence to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). The Coalition is also initiated an upper house inquiry into the allegations with the help of The Greens and The Shooters. The scope of the inquiry is unclear, but it would be an interesting move if it was widened by The Greens to include the broader issue of political donations. However the Coalition would probably head off any such move.

I’ll update this post with more information as it comes to light.

Update: The Coalition’s attempts to set up an inquiry appear to have stalled with The Shooters wavering.

Update 2: Apparently a NSW MP has been interviewed by police. There are suggestions that McGurk was seeking a seat in Parliament only two days before his death.

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Tony Stewart loses court case

Former assistant health minister Tony Stewart was today blocked by the Supreme Court from continuing a legal challenge against the NSW Government.

Stewart was sacked from cabinet after allegedly touching and verbally abusing a staff member. He denied the allegations and launched legal actions against the Government for firing him.

The court ruling is being spun as a “win” for Premier Nathan Rees. My opinion is that any relief Rees will feel from winning the court case will be outweighed by the resurgence of the Tony Stewart fiasco in the minds of the public.

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Today in parliament The Greens moved a motion to censure the Minister for Education and Training, Verity Firth, for misleading Parliament over comments she made about the implementation of school league tables being tied to Federal funding.

During the debate over the league tables legislation Verity Firth refused to back down, stating:

We will not put New South Wales at the risk of losing $4.8 billion dollars in Commonwealth investment.

However her representative in the upper house, Penny Sharpe, answered a question by Fred Nile on whether the move to ban league tables would have any impact on the Commonwealth agreement or in anyway threaten Commonwealth funding by saying:

The answer to both questions is no.

Some might consider the move to censure Verity Firth trivial as Labor does not have a majority in the upper house. However, in the context of ongoing scandal the motion is quite embarrassing for the Government, but more importantly, analysing the breakdown of the vote shows the difficulty it faces in the Legislative Council.

The vote passed 18-17 with The Greens, Coalition and Gordon Moyes voting for the motion and Labor and Fred Nile voting against it. The Shooters abstained.

This vote perfectly encapsulates the political dynamic in the upper house. The Coalition will jump on every opportunity to make the Government look bad and Gordon Moyes seems to have developed some kind of environmental and social conscience, for example, siding with The Greens to call on the Minister for State Development to:

(a) respect the right of local communities to peacefully express their opposition to the Repco
Rally, and

(b) actively monitor the environmental and social impacts of the Repco Rally.

On these kinds of motions Fred Nile tends to support the Government as a small thanks for his increase in pay due to his appointment to the useless position of Assistant Deputy President. The Shooters used to be a reliable source of support for Labor but, as discussed previously, they seem desperate to prove they can’t be taken for granted. While showing their bargaining power they aren’t going so far as to actually support censuring the Government, perhaps suggesting a thawing in relations leading to a potential compromise.

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After spending weeks denying that the Government was prepared to do deal with The Shooters over their proposal to legalise hunting in national parks, Nathan Rees and Co. look like they’ve backflipped.

The Premier’s Chief of Staff, Graeme Wedderburn, met with The Shooters MP’s offering a compromise deal that would allow hunting in national parks on a “trial basis”. Labor needs the support of The Shooters in the Legislative Council to overturn a ban on publishing simplistic school league tables.

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Any hopes John Della Bosca had of being Premier were shattered last night when it emerged he had an affair earlier this year with a 26 year old woman.

Late last night Della Bosca called Premier Nathan Rees and informed him he was resigning as Health Minister and leader of the the government in the Legislative Council. He also issued a statement:

Tonight I have advised the Premier of my intention to resign as health minister and leader of the government in the NSW Legislative Council.

At no time did I breach my duties as a minister or member of parliament. I took the decision to resign following a series of questions put to me about my personal life.

I do not want this issue to be a distraction to the government. I regret some personal decisions I made and I am deeply sorry for the hurt I have caused my family.

It has been a privilege to serve the people of NSW.

This is going to have far reaching political ramifications throughout NSW. The scandal sucks out whatever oxygen the Rees government had left and allows the Opposition to make mileage on what is often regarded as the most important issue of concern in the state – health. The timing of this allegation is a bit too convenient for it to be coincidental, given the weeks of leadership speculation and today’s caucus meeting.

Nathan Rees might feel as though he has some breathing room now that one of the top contenders for his job has been knocked out but there’s just too many other people calling for his scalp.

The other issue to consider is the government’s performance in the Legislative Council, where Della was leader. With four different micro parties and independents to deal with, Della, who was respected across parties and knew how to get things done, managed to deal his way through most government legislation. Now that The Shooters have gone feral and O’Farrell is willing to inflict maximum political pain regardless of his principles, the person Rees promotes will have to be much more capable than Rees himself.

Update: Attorney-General John Hatzistergos has been appointed care taker Health Minister pending a reshuffle.

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