Premier who never was settles the score
In 2009 an embattled Nathan Rees warned that, should he not be NSW premier by the end of that day, his successor would be nothing but “a puppet of Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi”. This marked a decisive moment in the disintegration and degeneration of NSW Labor.
Rees, who had succeeded Morris Iemma 12 months earlier, indeed did not see out that day as premier. His speech had an electrifying impact that continues to resonate.
Kristina Keneally, handpicked by Obeid, Tripodi and Ian Macdonald to replace Rees, tried to reassure voters that she was “nobody’s puppet” and “nobody’s girl”.
Former minister Carl Scully, in this self-published memoir, Setting the Record Straight, pulls back the scab on these unhappy events and the pus oozes out.
This is an important book that deserves a wide audience because he is prepared to tell the truth about the decrepit state of NSW Labor in the post-Bob Carr era. Its publication is timely ahead of next weekend’s Labor state conference.
The author tells me that the party had to atone for allowing “criminals” to effectively appoint three premiers following Carr’s retirement in 2005. Scully is referring to sub-faction kingmakers Obeid from the right and Macdonald from the left. Appointing the premier, one observer tells me, was like the mafia lounging around in the back of a greasy pizza parlour in New York, dividing the spoils among the made men (and women).
Scully is unfair to Iemma, who was elevated to the premiership with the support of Carr and the imprimatur of Mark Arbib, then NSW Labor secretary. His Sussex Street successor, Karl Bitar, played a decisive role in smoothing a path for Rees to become premier in 2008. Rees was ousted because he sacked Tripodi and Macdonald from cabinet. Without Obeid, Keneally would never have become premier. She returned Macdonald to the cabinet.
It is true, however, that Iemma was not hungry enough for the job and Rees never adequately filled it. Iemma, despite Scully labelling him “the master mumbler”, did win reelection in 2007. This should not be discounted. Keneally, however, in 2011 presided over the worst election result for Labor in more than a century. These disastrous years are now underscored by former ministers occupying jail cells. Others may soon join them.
Scully is not an impartial observer of these events. He had long aspired to become premier. His sights were set on succeeding Carr after the latter’s stellar electoral success, winning two landslides in 1999 and 2003. But Scully was blindsided when Carr announced his retirement in 2005.
“I immediately felt an enormous surge of electricity through my body,” Scully writes about the moment he heard the news. “My time had now come. I felt overwhelmed with emotion and excitement. I was ready. I was going to be premier.” Flanked by his family, he held a press conference and announced he was run-